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Society

A Greek Shipping Oligarch on the Fringe: Victor Restis’ Curious Circle of Friends

July 25, 2018

His name is not well-known despite being a Greek shipping tycoon, and that’s just the way Victor Restis wants it, preferring the clandestine underworld where politics, finance and power intersect, aligning himself with people from other countries said to be equally corrupt and adept at manipulating the laws and banks and influential structures to enrich themselves and get away with it.

That’s the take on one of Greece’s wealthiest and shadowy figures, a man who inherited a fleet from his father and parlayed it into grabbing up real estate, Ambassadorial posts in other countries, tied to equally ambitious and rich men from Montenegro, San Marino, Thailand and Malaysia, making a fortune off deals said to be dubious and strip the taxpayers from wherever he is.

His tangled web was described by Alexander Clapp in The American Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based bimonthly magazine focusing primarily on foreign policy, international affairs, global economics, and military matters.

While shunning the fellowship or connections of fellow oligarchs who control almost everything in Greece, including governments whose successive Prime Ministers have all run away from vows to make them pay taxes, Restis has forged a closed circle of the elite to gain power in Greece and other countries, much if it, the report said, with at least dubious if not criminal means.

He’s the ultimate insider-outsider, a man who knows the world of the shipping magnates as well as those of bankers, politicians, and the upper crust, a man who fashions himself the new Aristotle Onassis but, unlike his idol, prefers to work in the corners and shadows and using his wealth and power to stomp on anyone who tries to reveal who he is and what he does.

Restis’ companies stretch across more than a dozen sectors—shipping, tourism, television, mining—and at least as many countries, the report said, born into privilege in the Congo where his father went to make his money exporting fruits back to Europe before returning to Greece to invest in a shipping company that expanded.

Restis was educated in Belgium, not in the schools of the enclave buddy club of Greek shipping tycoons who know each other but on a par with most in terms of wealth, and exceeding them in power in other countries.

His connections, according to the report, include:

– Milo Dukanovic, the contraband cigarette baron who is perhaps the most powerful man in Montenegro, almost a rogue state in terms of corruption

– Thaksin Shinawatra, the ex-Thai Prime Minister who was overthrown by his own army but became a citizen of – Montenegro – courtesy of Restis’ pal Dukanovic

– Wei Sang “Paul” Phua, a Malaysian card shark and serial match fixer who was taken down by an FBI sting operation in Las Vegas in 2014 before landing on his feet in – Montenegro – building casinos

– Claudio Podeschi, former head of the tiny mountain enclave of San Marino, on trial for selling diplomatic posts, including to Phua as well as Restis, who was named Ambassador to Poland
The story said they worked together in schemes to bilk states and make fortunes while laughing all the way to the banks – which they controlled and established, Restis the heart of their operations.

“Restis’ saga shows how easily such corruption can spread—especially in the wake of the Greek crisis, which encouraged the easy flow of dubious foreign capital into and through the country,” the report said, focusing on the lessons of the Greek shipping magnates who control their country and set the model for how to do the same elsewhere.

Even while caught in corruption scandals in Greece, he has mostly escaped and indeed flourished during a more than eight-year-long economic crisis which has seen many Greeks devastated by big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, worker firings, foreclosures and the loss of benefits while the shipping owners have flaunted their wealth and power and did almost nothing to help their homeland.

In 2013, his family bank, a 16-branch enterprise called First Business Bank, was shut down when he was caught getting state loans under the names of family members, then siphoning the cash off to his offshores. He served four months of a five-year term with the bank’s debt paid by Greek taxpayers.

Then there were the allegations that that for at least five years Restis has been laundering money through a racket in Athens tied to offshore companies.

A key source of money is said to come from Thailand, allowing him to buy hotels in Mykonos and Messenia.

After the death of his father in 2004. Restis bought 32 bulk carriers from a Malaysian group and became the fifth-largest ship owner in Greece and then began diversifying, building cruise ships I China, buying Greek online news outlets and setting up his own bank.

Then he tied himself to Dukanovic in Montenegro and they worked together to watch each other’s bank in bank dealings there before moving on to real estate on the picturesque Adriatic coastline of that country that entices tourists and moving to control media outlets.

While losing his Ambassador’s post, he is set to become the first head of the new maritime registry in San Marino – a landlocked country with no ships – and will operate out of an office in Athens, away from the other magnates and with more influence and money than almost all of them.

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