ATHENS – Bank of Greece Gov. Yannis Stournaras wants prosecutors to investigate a phone conversation he said was secretly recorded and leaked by Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis who was upset he was being probed over a 100,000-euro ($113,490) loan.
The provocative Polakis, who said flu deaths in Greece weren’t a disaster, that the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA should start jailing political rivals, and who openly defies No Smoking laws in the ministry and nightclubs, was outraged details of the loan were revealed, showing it was tied to a second mortgage of 300,000 euros ($340,484) for a Cretan house.
Stournaras – one of 10 political and official rivals of SYRIZA that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, without any proof, openly accused of taking bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis – asked the Premier to intervene against Polakis, a close aide.
Stournaras deplored the Deputy Minister’s “unheard-of” attempt to influence the central bank, and urged Tsipras to protect the central bank’s independence.
“The preposterous attempt … to interfere with how the administration of the Bank of Greece and I personally perform our duties is a gross institutional transgression,” he said.
“Yesterday’s action by a representative of the executive branch to attempt in an unheard-of manner to influence the way in which I carry out my duties compels me to provide clear explanations and take action,” Stournaras said.
THE HEAT IS ON
The Bank of Greece Governor — a finance minister in Greece’s former conservative government — has long had a testy relationship with Tsipras’ left-wing administration, and is frequently targeted by pro-government media.
There was no indication that Tsipras would do anything to rein in Polakis, who has been a kind of political attack dog for SYRIZA that has plummeted in polls after reneging on anti-austerity promises with elections coming this year.
Polakis on Feb. 18 announced on social media that he phoned Stournaras over an investigation into a loan from Attica Bank, that is under the jurisdiction of the Bank of Greece. Reports said the loan was rushed through to help Polakis but the bank said it followed proper procedures although its officials were called in by Stournaras.
Polakis admitted he demanded that Stournaras to also investigate loans allegedly taken out by opposition politicians.
A 450-word, verbatim account of the conversation was subsequently published by a pro-government website, and Stournaras accused Polakis of secretly recording the call and then leaking it.
“It is historically unprecedented … for a government minister to record a private telephone conversation and to immediately leak, selectively, falsified parts of such a conversation to a media outlet friendly to the government,” Stournaras said.
Polakis denied recording the call, but head of the Athens prosecutor’s office, Evangelos Ioannidis, ordered an investigation into the alleged taping by Polakis of the private phone conversation, which is unlawful although the minister has immunity against almost any crimes unless that is lifted by Parliament.
The prosecution will investigate whether the recording happened without Stournaras’s consent and who leaked it to the paper.
If there is evidence that Polakis is behind it, the prosecutor will then ask Parliament to lift his immunity so that he can face felony charges.
Polakis said he gave Stournaras until Feb. 21 to investigate the alleged loans taken by opposition politicians. According to the leaked transcript of the phone call, which Polakis said was an accurate rendition, he told Stournaras:
“When you have checked my loan check the others too, otherwise I will come by and won’t leave until you order the investigation.”
Stournaras, who has contradicted Tsipras’ rosy claims the government is bringing a recovery from a more than 8 ½-year-long economic and austerity crisis, said the recording was unauthorized and that Polakis was trying to tell him how to do his job.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)