Global NGO’s Protest Greek Probe

Three leading NGOs in Greece are protesting "unprecedented attacks" on groups following fraud allegations about state-funded agencies.

ATHENS — Three leading non-governmental organizations in Greece are protesting “unprecedented attacks” on NGOs in the country following fraud allegations involving publicly funded local groups.

The Greek sections of ActionAid, Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) say NGOs should not be victimized because of some entities’ “lack of transparency and illicit aims.”

The joint statement followed police allegations of multi-million-euro fraud involving a mine-clearing charity and a firefighting volunteer group.

Greece’s financial crisis has prompted a series of probes on possible public funds misuse by politicians, bankers and NGOs. This week’s crackdown on the now-defunct International Mine Initiative and the Voluntary Corps of Greek Firemen and Reforesters has turned the media spotlight on hundreds of NGOs and charities, none of which have been officially accused of misconduct.

A one-time advisor to former Greek premier George Papandreou has been tied to a scheme to defraud the Greek government by using a formerly Athens-based NGO as a front for international de-mining operations and led the state to now look into the operations of some 6,000 other private agencies getting public funding.

Greek media said that three former and three current diplomats were tied to the International Mine Initiative, including Alex Rondos, who told the newspaper Ethnos he was surprised to find his name among them, saying he had followed procedures while at the Foreign Ministry, though he said they were “problematical and inadequate.”

Rondos has no formal affiliation with the NGO, but he reportedly authorized funding for it when he worked at YDAS, the Agency for International Development and Cooperation, in the Fiscal and Investigative Service of the Foreign Ministry of Greece.

The de-mining center’s head, journalist Costas Tzevelekos, has been detained on charges of fraud on the basis of 20,000 pages of evidence gathered in a 20-month inquiry by the financial police. Investigators believe those involved used the government money for personal expenses and lavish spending.

Tzevelekos reportedly used his share of the money to buy four properties, three in Athens and one on Rhodes, and to have been living in a luxury villa in Vrilissia, an affluent northern suburb of Athens, with his family.

Papandreou’s office also issued a statement, claiming that regulations for state funding to NGOs were put in place during his term as PM and accusing certain media of trying to “indirectly implicate” him in the scandal which reportedly found officials at the de-mining agency had stolen nine million euros while saying they were running operations in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, where Greek consular officials reportedly didn’t check on them.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)