Scandalized Greek Banker Faces Money Laundering Probe, SYRIZA Ties

Greek businessman Lavrentis Lavrentiadis. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Nikos Palaiologos, file)

ATHENS – A Greek banker charged with stealing at least 511 million euros ($577.42 million) from a bank in which he was the major shareholder is now the focus of a money laundering probe involving a fertilizers company he owns.

Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, who was released from detention in 2014 after saying he didn’t feel well, but who has been running the company Greek Fertilizers and Chemicals (ELFE) is being investigated along with everyone tied to a scandal involving his company and the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA).

Kathimerini said the probe being headed by Supreme Court deputy prosecutor Anna Zairi, will look into assets held by Lavrentiadis and government aide Manolis Petsitis, whose involvement is already the subject of a separate criminal investigation.

Judicial authorities are investigating dozens of ties between DEPA and ELFE, including alleged efforts by Petsitis to convince the gas company to write off millions of euros in debt run up by Lavrentiadis’ firm, as well as suspect land-swap deals, the paper said.

A prosecutor in January directed another probe, this one into whether an associate of Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas – who is a close advisor to Prime Minister and ruling Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras – tried to get DEPA to write off 120 million euros ($135.61 million) in utility debts owed by Lavrentiadis.

His trial hasn’t begun almost five years after he release from jail with no explanation why, or why if he claimed health problems he’s running a major company now tied to another scandal or if terms of his release were violated with the new charges.

Lavrentiadis was charged for embezzlement over the failed Proton Bank in which he had an interest and was also accused of complicity in bank fraud over the company’s unpaid debts to Alpha Bank.

Media reports said that Petsitis, the associate of Pappas, appeared at DEPA’s offices in 2015 “claiming to represent the prime minister’s office” and asking for the gas company to come to some kind of an arrangement for writing off ELFE’s debt.

The former DEPA executive, who has been accused of accepting bribes, said Petsitis had been working for ELFE at the same time and was receiving a “very satisfactory salary.”

DEPA, which claims that ELFE paid its gas bills with bad checks for years without explaining why that was allowed, how it happened, or why there were no prosecutions, sued Lavrentiadis and 11 associates for fraud and racketeering but he hasn’t been returned to jail.

Lavrentiadis was already facing charges over running a criminal organization, money laundering, fraud and breach of faith in connection with alleged embezzlement at Proton Bank. He had completed 19 months in pre-trial custody, a month longer than the maximum period defendants are supposed to be held, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The investigation showed he may have been behind the theft of as much as 700 million euros ($928.7 million) from the bank, which helped bring it down.

An audit by the Bank of Greece, which regulates the industry, found that more than 40 percent of Proton’s commercial loans in 2010 were made to companies related to Lavrentiadis. The report says this was part of a misuse of the basic principles of lending and assurance.

A separate investigation, signed by a senior prosecutor who heads the country’s money laundering authority, found that Lavrentiadis – once hailed as the rising star of Greek business and known as a leading patron of the arts – had formed a criminal team to drain the bank.

It alleged loans made to dormant companies had been wired from Proton to another bank, Piraeus Bank, and then withdrawn by an employee in bags of cash.

In every case the leading figure was Lavrentiadis, said the confidential report by Greece’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), seen by Reuters in 2012. The bank’s management developed continuous, intense and to a great extent criminal activity which led to the deception of depositors, it said.