by Yanis Varoufakis
Last November I posted a piece entitled A Small Victory for Press Freedom in Greece’s Struggle against Cleptocracy. That story concerned the courageous decision of Kostas Vaxevanis, one of Greece’s few, valiant investigative reporters, to publish the so-called Lagarde List; the list of Swiss bank account holders that Greece’s political class did its utmost to keep hidden, to pretend that either it never existed or that it had been ‘misplaced’. Since then, Vaxevanis has been arrested by Special Branch officers, was tried in the Greek Courts, was acquitted triumphantly, and, more recently, awarded one of international journalism’s top awards.
In an earlier piece, last July, (entitled Bankruptocracy in the Greek Sector of Bailoutistan) I had drawn my readers’ attention to the remarkable revelations of Reuters’ Stephen Grey regarding the ponzi scheme put together by Greek bankers for the purposes of usurping Europe’s bank recapitalisation rules, pretending that they managed to draw private capital into their insolvent banks which never really existed. My piece castigated the Greek media for maintaining a veil of silence on these corrupt and criminal practices, while highlighting the troika’s curious lack of interest in the shenanigans of bankers who are receiving billions of European taxpayers’ money (in the process of the so-called ‘recapitalisation’ process).
Today’s post links these two stories together in a manner that you, dear reader, will find startling, worrying, enraging, disconcerting. It comprises, mainly, the summary of a letter that Kostas Vaxevanis sent to a London based journalist last week (the translation and summarising from the Greek original is mine). With this letter Vaxevanis sought support, advice and an opportunity of spreading the news of the dire situation faced by Greeks (citizens and journalists) who refuse to keep silent in the face of deep seated, criminal corruption. I urge you to read on.
“In May 2012, I investigated the functioning of Greek banks, with special emphasis on a certain Greek Bank (The Bank henceforth) and its Chairman (The Chairman). I found that The Chairman’s family members were the secret owners of a number of offshore companies that would receive loans from the bank without any real collateral. These loans would then: (a) be written off as unserviceable, or (b) be used to buy office space that would immediately be resold to other parties which would then lease them to The Bank or sell them toThe Bank at inflated prices. In addition, other offshore companies were used byThe Chairman to borrow substantial amounts from two other Greek banks, again with no collateral, for the purposes of buying shares The Bank (thus helping the bank demonstrate its capacity to draw in private capital). Since then the owner of one of these two other banks has been imprisoned (on different charges) while the second bank involved has played a central role in bringing down the Cypriot banking system (after its merger with one of the island’s now collapsed banks and the transfer of its headquarters from Greece to Cyprus).
After the publication of these two investigative pieces, photographs of Stephen Grey (the Reuters investigative reporter who broke a part of this story to an international audience), were published in various websites with the caption: “The man who came to destroy Greece”. Worse still, the same blogs circulated a ‘document’ which ‘showed’ that I was on the payroll of the Greek state’s intelligence services. I managed to defuse this campaign of defamation by writing extensively about it in the press.
On 11th September 2012, late at night, a group of 4 or 5 people staked out my home. It was only accidentally that I avoided being ambushed (my motorcycle had a flat tire and I thus returned home in a friend’s car). Upon noticing the stalkers I called the police and asked them to come quietly. The police arrived noisily and went to a nearby house first, thus giving the men plenty of time to make their escape. For days, the police refused to investigate properly or to call eyewitnesses to make a statement (later, after I published the story, they did). Since then, I have been denied police protection (unlike most other journalists) and have had to resort to private security.
Soon after the failed ambush, a woman visited my office insisting that I should see her to discuss “the bankers’ designs” on me. I decided to meet with her. She was a frightened woman who claimed to be in grave personal danger. She said that she had been, and was, part of a group comprising former agents and salaried members of the Greek intelligence services, connected to business interests who worked on, at first, wrecking my public image and, later on, planning my physical demise. She added that it was her who, following specific orders, had forged the document ‘proving’ that I was on the payroll of the secret service – a document which her group then circulated to the various blogs that used it.
According to her testimony to me, a group stationed in Skopja was engaged to “see me off”. Part of the same plot concerned the defamation of another woman, a former bank manager with The Bank, who had been fired on false charges of embezzlement because, in truth, she possessed damning evidence concerningThe Chairman’s family’s activities. Their plan, vis-a-vis this former bank manager was to plant narcotics in a restaurant that she owned on the island of Zakynthos and to orchestrate a very public arrest so that, in the future, if she ever revealed her evidence against The Chairman’s family, the press could dismiss her as a ‘drug dealer’. To prove her story, my interlocutor handed over a sequence of photographs that were the result of the surveillance of the former bank manager taken by «her group». The woman further claimed that she had not dared distance herself from that group but she was afraid that she would be killed upon completing her ‘tasks’.
On our part, we immediately investigated her claims. We subjected her to an accredited graphologist’s test who comfirmed that the forged document showing that I was, supposedly, on the secret agents’ payroll (as published in various blogs) was in her handwriting. We also confirmed with the ferry company that the car in which that team of operatives was supposed to have travelled to Zakynthos (to plant drugs in order to frame The Bank’s former employee) had indeed travelled there. We also established that the car was registered to former intelligence agents who had been prosecuted for an number of misdeeds – and whose court case is pending.
I met with this woman a number of times in an attempt further to establish the truth of her allegations. In one of these meetings, she said that the headquarters of her group was close to our magazine’s (HOT DOC) but also that the group had abandoned those quarters fearing that we had worked out they were conducting surveillance on us from there (after I had written in HOT DOC that I know I am being followed). Furthermore, the woman handed to us audio records from her group’s meetings in which they were discussing their plans. We went to the address she gave us to find abandoned offices that were for lease and to see if they featured hidden crypts (where the woman had told her group kept weapons). We found these hidden crevices and photographed them.
To protect myself, I wrote a report on the above which I sealed and delivered to a notary to be released on the event of my death or disappearance. I also visited a district attorney whose incorruptibility I trust. The woman left Athens and is in hiding, even though I remain in contact with her.
Following the above events, I was contacted by the group of people that I consider to have planned to assassin me. I alerted the police and met with them under police surveillance. In the meeting, they denied everything and pretended they had nothing to do with any of these plans. I left that meeting and then refused to take their repeated calls. A few days ago the case files were transferred again from the police to the district attorney. I know nothing further about the law agencies’ activities in this regard.”
Kostas Vaxevanis’ letter then moves on to another, related, issue: The Lagarde List which he and HOT DOC published causing a major political storm, that echoed around the world, and leading to his arrest (for endangering the privacy of those on the list) – not to mention to worldwide acclaim at least within the international community of investigative journalists. Vaxevanis was then acquitted in a short and triumphant trial but the prosecution appealed with the result that a second trial will take place next June.
Meanwhile, following the publication of the Lagarde List, and under enormous pressure from public opinion, the Greek Parliament set up an investigative committee (made up of parliamentarians from each party, in proportion to their strength in Parliament – as per the Constitution) to investigate only one person: the former Minister of Finance, Mr George Papakonstantinou under whose watch the Lagarde List got ‘lost’ within the Greek government and was never utilised by the authorities. The said Committee has a remit to rule on whether there is sufficient evidence to try Mr Papakonstantinou. In the context of its investigation, the Committee calls witnesses who are then examined by members of the Committee. In his letter, Vaxevanis says that, even though no one disputes that the list he and HOT DOC published was the original Lagarde List – as given to him by an anonymous person – certain members of the Committee subjected him to aggressive examination (something that I can vouch for having read the official transcripts as produced by the Greek Parliament) the purpose of which was, clearly, not to establish the truth about the Lagarde List but to discredit Vaxevanis and HOT DOC. Vaxevanis notes in his letter that the members of the Committee that were most aggressive happened to be the ones that ought to have stood down from the Committee on the basis of a clear conflict of interest. In particular, Vaxevanis writes in his letter:
“The mother of one member of the Committee was on the Lagarde List. The wife of another member of the Committee appears to have power of attorney for an account on the Lagarde List. The third member, who happens to Chair the Committee, is the lawyer of a tax office employee who has been convicted for having embezzled millions of euros of tax payers’ money. He has also been the subject of two parliamentary investigations but escaped prosecution shielded by legislation that gives investigators/prosecutors a mere two years before the case is considered to fall under the statute of limitations.”
Vaxevanis’ letter finishes thus:
“I thought it important to relate to you these events. I am in need for your assistance and advice. Every day that goes by, a new piece of a conspiracy is put together and I fear that the jigsaw may be completed by the time my second trial takes place in June. I feel they are keen to convict me while giving me the option to pay a fine instead of serving time in prison. Of course if convicted I shall refuse to do so, opting for prison in order to publicise in that manner what is going on in this country. I could ask for assistance from opposition parties but I revile the idea of becoming part of the party political game. Thank you for your attention and apologies for tiring you with my long-winded story. Alas, you are our only allies. Greece is sinking not only in an economic crisis but also in filth.”
You may wonder what happened to The Chairman and to The Bank. The Chairman is doing fine, thank you. His insolvent bank has now turned into a (by Greek standards) Too-Big-Too-Fail monster, having been handed on a silver platter the good chunks of banks that the Greek taxpayer has paid through the nose to carve out of failed operations. Those in the know expect that he, amongst all Greek bankers, will probably manage to retain control of ‘his’ bank after ESM-funded recapitalisation (though no one seems to know why he can attract private capital when healthier banks, like the National Bank of Greece, are failing to do so). His close connections with people high up in the Central Bank of Greece and in the political establishment (that the average Greek refers to as the Cleptocracy) have ensured that his power to extract rents from the rest of a crumbling society is inversely proportional to ‘his’ bank’s performance. Being a major ‘sponsor’ of the bankrupt (both financially and morally) Greek media has certainly not done him any harm.
Bankruptocracy in the Greek Sector of Bailoutistan is, thus, progressing in leaps and bounds. With European taxpayers’ loan guarantees providing the capital and a bonfire of the Greek people’s hopes for the future supplying the energy.