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Letter from Athens: Why isn’t Lavrentis Lavrentiadis in Jail?

The National Herald

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

If Lavrentis Lavrentiadis didn’t exist, you’d have to invent him as a composite characterless creation of the embodiment of all the worst traits of the minority of modern Greeks who are the antithesis of those decent people who work and struggle and scrap to get by.

Arrogant, rich, greedy, above the law, he can slide off sandpaper at the same time he’s greasing palms to buy influence, including corrupting successive governments and avoiding trial on so many charges you’d need a scorecard to keep count.

In June it will be five years – years – since he was released from pretrial detention as prosecutors said he had embezzled 511 million euros ($572.86 million) from Proton Bank, which the government had to rescue.

Why was he let out? The same reason celebrity criminals in Greece use that courts almost always seem to buy like it was the first they’d heard it. He said he didn’t feel well, although probably better than all the people he hurt when the bank in which he was a major shareholder, Proton, lost its license and was liquidated.

Lavrentiadis was banned from leaving the country but is being allowed to keep operating another company, Hellenic Fertilizers (ELFE) and accused of complicity in a decision to transfer its activities to two other companies to get out of having to pay back its loans.

He and four close associates were accused by an Athens prosecutor in April of cheating Alpha Bank out of millions of euros in loans and this guy’s still scheming and wheeling and dealing while prisoners with terminal cancer are penned up to die.

But he’s not been returned to jail and still running the company while reportedly scheming with aides from Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras while trying to get out of paying 120 million euros ($124.53 million) in utility bills ELFE owed the state, essentially trying to defraud the government, a bank and the courts he’s mocking.

That also led to him – you keeping track? – being the focus of a money laundering probe while out of jail and allowed to operate a business instead of being under house arrest with a monitoring anklet keeping track of which room he’s in.

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.

Petsitis' qualifications for being pals with Tsipras and the Premier’s closest aide and the King’s Hand, Nikos Pappas, are working in a pizza place before he obviously found out there’s more dough in politics.

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.

Media reports said that Petsitis 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. Unsaid was that someone would probably pocket it, absent some finder’s fees for people who helped out. That’s how it goes.

A 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,” without saying how much but a lot more than making pizzas.

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.

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 and that it was 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. Now he's free to do the same to yet another company.

That investigation 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, although suitcases would have been more fashionable and big enough, with rollers.

In every case the leading figure was Lavrentiadis, said a 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.

An investigation into five suspects began in 2016, following a complaint from Alpha Bank that ELFE’s management had tried to make the fertilizer firm appear as though it had gone bankrupt so as to compel the Greek state to step in and pay off its debts.

The two other companies carrying out ELFE's work were free to make a profit, without having any responsibility to pay back the loans taken out for the original firm, the complaint said. Lock him up.