On the afternoon of Dec. 21, a woman attempted to cash a check for €147,600 ($195,363) at a Greek bank. It could have been a very merry Christmas, but instead she and four others were arrested and implicated in a multi-million euro embezzlement scheme involving the Greek national tourism agency, reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall).
And so the latest Greek scandal starts to unfold. A probe into possible corruption at the national tourist organization (responsible for Greece’s lucrative tourism industry, representing about a sixth of the nation’s GDP (paywall)), is underway to account for €12 million missing due to “irregularities” going back a decade. Accountants are poring over the agency’s books after its general secretary, Panos Livadas, admitted there were gaps.
European leaders, who have convinced their citizens to stick with debt-laden Greece and continue bailing it out, must be tearing their hair out. A report in December by Transparency International rated Greece the most corrupt of any EU country.
The latest Greek scandal follows another ongoing drama involving onetime finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, who just last week was expelled from his socialist Pasok party for allegedly removing names of his family members from the so-called Lagarde list. A parliamentary probe into his actions may follow. This list, which went missing for two years, and is now the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, purports to name people who evaded taxes by socking away some €2 billion in a Swiss bank account.
Those arrested over possible tourism agency embezzlement so far include five people allegedly linked to the check-cashing incident. The check was made out to a hotel on a Greek island for services never rendered. When the woman tried to cash it, a bank official called the tourism agency, according to the WSJ, and was told to stop payment. One man arrested is a former special adviser to the former general secretary of the agency, Nikos Karahalios, who left his post at the agency on Dec. 20 after just 12 weeks in office. His name was reportedly on the check. He says it was forged.
In about a month, an auditing team is expected to issue its findings. They’re examining allegations of a decade’s worth of overpayments (paywall) on media campaigns and hotels by the national tourism agency.