Greek Elite Used Banks To Steal 1B Euros, Money-Laundering Prosecutor Tells Lawmaker Panel

The head of Greece's money-laundering investigating agency said the country's business elite used state banks to enrich themselves through schemes.

ATHENS –  While most Greeks are suffering crushing austerity measures, the country’s business hierarchy and politicians have enriched themselves with an elaborate scheme to use state banks to essentially steal much of depositors’ money, the chief of the money-laundering investigating agency said.

Panayiotis Nikoloudis, who is a Supreme Court Deputy Prosecutor, presented findings to Parliament in which he claimed that five state pillaged their deposits and funneled money to members of their boards, major shareholders, cronies and big business players through dodgy loans and transfers to tax havens and offshore bank accounts.

He indicated that Proton Bank, First Business Bank, Hellenic Postbank, Halkida Bank and Bank of the Peloponnese were essentially being used as private conduits to steal as much as one billion euros through bad loans to the connected without having to determine where the money went, and other methods.

The former head of the Hellenic Postbank, which had to be rescued, and a number of other officials there have been arrested and charged with taking 500 million euros ($693.8 million) through bad loans.

Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the major shareholder in Proton, which failed because there were so many bad loans and had to be nationalized by the government, has been jailed pending his trial on charges of stealing as much as 700 million euros ($928.7 million).

The banks are used by Greek workers, pensioners and middle-class customers who have found it difficult to obtain loans themselves even though the money is their own deposits. Greece is also funneling 50 billion euros ($69.38 billion) in international bailouts to recapitalize banks, and is set to add as much as 6.4 billion euros ($8.88 billion) more.

Nikoloudis showed evidence pointing to interbank activity, legal cover-ups, expertise in such schemes, and, of course, a steady cycle of interconnected interests that were protected by friendly media outlets and complicit politicians, Kathimerini reported.

He presented his own view of how the hierarchy of massive-scale corruption works: Of the 207 cases being investigated by his department, corrupt politicians do not appear to play a leading role, which is reserved for a very specific section of the economic elite with powerful media connections. The job of the politicians is to provide cover when it’s needed, he said.

It’s expected the list will likely grow even longer, revealing more suspects, people with money, social standing and influence, people who have plundered the country and prospered while most of their countrymen have suffered.

The government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has conducted a crackdown that led to the arrests of a number of former officials at Hellenic Postbank as he said his administration would not tolerate corruption and wrongdoing.