Whistleblower Asylum Chief Says Greece Refugee Program Corrupt

FILE - In this Friday, May 4, 2018 file photo migrants and refugees wait outside the European Asylum Support Service offices inside the camp of Moria on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

The former head of an asylum program processing asylum applications in Greece for scores of thousands of refugees and migrants said it’s filled with corruption and called on prosecutors to examine how money is being spent, including 1.6 billion euros ($1.84 billion) in European Union subsidies aimed at improving conditions in detention centers and camps.

“It’s time for prosecutors to intervene … What I say is that oversight has been lost; chaos reigns at the moment,” Andreas Ilioupoulos was quoted by the Athens daily Fileleftheros as saying.

That came after the publisher, editor and another journalist from the paper were jailed overnight after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose office handles the monies for the refugee programs – it wasn’t explained why it doesn’t come under the jurisdiction of the agency dealing with refugees and migrants – complained he was smeared after the paper he was directing contracts to business friends, which he denied.

There are more than 64,000 refugees and migrants, including some 15,000 on islands near Turkey, which lets human traffickers keep sending more during a suspended swap deal with the EU. Detention centers, including one on Lesbos the BBC called the “worst in the world” aren’t fit for humans, activists said, with no accounting of where the money is going to fix them.

Ilioupoulos, who said he has no real power, also alleged widespread mismanagement of funds both by relevant Greek state agencies – including the defense ministry – and a line of NGOs financed with EU money.

Ilioupoulos, a retired Greek Army Lt. General called on Greek and European judicial officials and regulatory authorities to commence an urgent investigation.

Migration Policy Minister, Dimitris Vitsas vehemently denied the allegations, and warned that “legal action” against Iliopoulos will follow and said the asylum chief either had to quit or be fired.
The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said it’s the only clean government Greece has had and that there’s no corruption but that previous governments were full of it.

Ilioupoulos, also a Leftist, is the third head of the asylum agency in three years but Vitsas called the allegations “lies,” without explaining if that’s the case where all the money has gone. Vitsas alternately said he had already fired Ilioupoulos, saying the asylum chief was guilty of “multiple deficiencies in exercising his duties,” the reason whistleblowers often say is used to try to discredit them for reporting wrongdoing.

With the Hellenic Red Cross facing expulsion from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for reportedly failing to fulfill commitments, the asylum program is being battered by critics, including the major rival New Democracy which said there should be an accounting of where all the EU money is going, if not to the camps.

The Conservatives also called for a probe over 52 million euros ($59.82 million) managed by the Defense Ministry and if the funding is part of an ongoing investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) said it would open an investigation after the newspaper reported about Kammenos and his business friends.

Investigators from OLAF are investigating alleged mismanagement of more than 1.6 billion euros ($1.88 billion) in EU subsidies to help Greece deal with a crisis of more than 64,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 15,000 on islands near Turkey, which lets human traffickers operate during a suspended swap deal with the bloc.

OLAF is looking into how the money was spent, said Politico Europe, much of it run camps which, despite the EU monies, have been criticized by human rights groups and activists working in them, and who report conditions are inhuman, with not enough toilets or other basic facilities, raising questions about where the money went.

Kammenos had three journalists from the newspaper Fileleftheros daily held overnight in jail after complaining he had been defamed by articles in the paper on how the funds were managed. They were held without charge before being released amid a furor over their detention and as a prosecutor pressed a probe.

An OLAF spokesperson told the Brussels-based news website the probe was launched following information submitted by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs last year.

“The fact that OLAF is examining the matter does not mean that any persons/ entities involved have committed an irregularity/fraud,” the spokesperson told Politico.

Politico Europe an unnamed spokesperson for the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) as saying an investigation has begun into alleged “irregularities” involving EU funds provided to Greece for refugees and migrants.

The site noted the arrest and detention of the Publisher, Editor and a journalist at the newspaper that was condemned by the journalist’s union and rival parties of the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition of which Kammenos’ marginal, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) is a junior partner with only seven votes in Parliament.

Last year, NGO SolidarityNow asked the European Parliament to look into how the EU monies were being spent in Greece and probe potential mismanagement, citing the conditions in the centers and camps.