This isn’t opinion, it’s fact: Transparency International ranks Greece the most corrupt country in the European Union, which is saying something when you consider Italy is practically owned by the Mafia.
Greeks in the Diaspora either don’t want to hear Greece’s problems or don’t care anymore because they’ve finally figured out they are the good guys – most of the decent, hardworking, honest people left long ago to create a better life in countries where they are appreciated.
To be sure, they have some kindred spirits in Greece: young idealists and entrepreneurs trying to strike out on their own, ignoring the cradle-to-grave promise of easy public service jobs their parents coveted, and trying to develop programs that help people instead of hinder them.
There’s also a core of the good: working people, intellectuals, artisans, NGO workers, volunteers, teachers, and their ilk. They are suffering under the yoke of plutocracy in a country where the rich and privileged and politicians are exempt from austerity and hardship – and still, despite a few well-publicized arrests and prosecution of the corrupt, above the law.
Take the case of former Greek transport minister Michalis Liapis, nephew of Constantine Karamanlis – the former Greek president and prime minister who founded New Democracy in 1974. Liapis was arrested in December on charges of driving his luxury car with false license plates, no license, no registration and no insurance.
That’s the kind of stuff that in most states in the United States would see you hammered by a judge, but Liapis had a good reason why he violated the laws he preached others should follow when he was overseeing transportation: “I’m a pensioner.”
He didn’t say what his pension was but you can bet it’s a lot more than the 300 euros ($412.55) a month – before taxes – many Greek elderly live on after successive governments cut their benefits on the orders of international lenders putting up $325 billion in two bailouts that will run out this year.
The affluent Liapis, who owns 28 properties, said he couldn’t afford the 1,320 euros ($1,815) a year in road taxes required to put cars on the road: his was a luxury SUV so he had enough to buy it.
But after he was arrested, he paid the tax for 2013 AND 2014 plus a 780 euros ($1,075) penalty – and then went on vacation to Malaysia (who paid for that?) because he said he was stressed out from all the media attention. He thought the reporters would buy his excuse that he was driving the car to charge the battery. Fake plates? Maybe he could have sold them to bank robbers.
After all that, he got a four-year suspended sentence. No 30 days in the hoosegow so he could rub shoulders with actual poor people, not even a day behind bars because the corruption in Greece is ingrained in the DNA of too many people who think it’s okay to cheat the state.
And it’s not just the rich, but the auto mechanic who won’t give you a receipt; the doctor recently arrested because he wanted a bribe before operating on a woman with breast cancer; the driving inspector who wants 200 or 300 euros before giving you a driver’s license even if you could qualify for FI; the civil servant who’ll put your important papers in the draw unless you cough up the cash; the minister’s aide who’s the middleman, and bag man carrying the money before a lucrative contract is let.
There’s so many scandals in Greece you need a scorecard to keep up with them and they all involve greed and the belief people could get away with it because they always had before a recent crackdown by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras started putting some people where they belonged.
Antonis Kantas, a former Greek defense ministry procurement chief who has outlined a widespread scandal in the agency admitted he took $16 million. He has returned some $9.62 million of that he said he accepted more than 10 years ago to approve lucrative arms contracts for foreign dealers.
And he wasn’t even the Big Fish when he worked there from 1997-2002. That was former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, now serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted on charges of money laundering after prosecutors said he may have stolen as much as a billion euros from defense contracts.
That’s billion with a B, and even in Greece, a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
Kantas and Tsochatzopoulos – and doubtless many others in the ministry – stole because they could and that’s why Greece is corrupt: people believed they could get away with it and they usually could.
But the worst is low-life scumbag Haris Tombouloglou, who was head of the largest children’s hospital in Greece – while he had a full-time job at the National Bank of Greece, and admitted taking 25,000 euros ($34,375) in an envelope he said was a “donation.”
He got it in a cafeteria, prompting snickers for the lame excuse but the bribe wasn’t the problem: it’s that he wouldn’t approve a contract to help obese children unless he got paid off, prosecutors said. If it was for fat cats, there’d be plenty to go around.