Few thought that Yanis Varoufakis would hop on his motorcycle and ride off into the sunset, never to be heard from again. If anything, the outspoken former Greek finance minister’s ability to generate eye-catching headlines has been enhanced since his July 6 ouster after five eventful months in the job.
Never one to mince words, Varoufakis in recent weeks has been busy chucking rhetorical bombs at Greece’s latest bailout agreement. But even for hardened Greece watchers accustomed by now to Varoufakis’ many reappraisals of his own tenure, his latest pronouncements have been a head-scratcher.
On July 16, almost two weeks after his resignation, Varoufakis was the featured guest on a conference call for international financiers run by a members-only talking shop. The off-the-record call was leaked to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, which promptly ran a story about it this weekend.
On the call, Varoufakis describes a clandestine, convoluted plan in which he and a small group of trusted advisors—led by a “childhood friend”—devised a parallel banking system using secretly copied taxpayer-identification numbers from ministry systems. If Greece was about to be booted from the euro zone, this system could be brought online to keep payments flowing in the event of a possible banking meltdown. These transfers could be switched from euros to a new drachma “at the drop of a hat,” according to Varoufakis.
Amid lurid headlines of “hacking” and “hijacking” taxpayer information on the sly, Varoufakis released a statement about the affair today, and gave his permission for the audio of the fateful conference call to be released. You can listen to the call here:
Varoufakis said that the so-called “Plan B Working Group” was authorized by prime minister Alexis Tsipras. But after sensitive details were discussed in the call, Varoufakis stopped to stress that “this is totally between us” and “I will deny I said it.” Business Insider has broken up some of the juicier parts of the call that deal with the alternative payment-system scheme.
On the call, he also discusses his theories about Germany punishing Greece as a roundabout way to “terrorize” France; his friendship with Tsipras, which he says endures despite his crossing the prime minister in a crucial parliamentary vote; and his refusal to take up a different ministry post (“I really love being a back-bencher—it gives me the opportunity to speak out”).
The Greek warrior
Also out today is a long profile of Varoufakis in the New Yorker, with new, behind-the-scenes details about his tenure as finance minister, described in the piece as having been conducted with “the air of a five-month-long TED talk.” A selection:
- Varoufakis thought a “yes” vote in the referendum was “inevitable.” When early voting results suggested that the people were about to reject the austerity measures by a wide margin, he asked, “What the hell is going on?”
- When the European Central Bank capped emergency liquidity for Greek banks, forcing them to close their doors and impose capital controls, he quipped to his wife: “Honey, I shut the banks.”
- After Greece defaulted on an IMF repayment, Varoufakis was reminded by the euro zone’s bailout fund that it reserved the right to call for immediate payment of its outstanding debts. The then finance minister’s reply: “Molon labe,” or “come and get it.” He was quoting a besieged Spartan king.
- He claims that when he met Barack Obama, the US president told him flatly, and empathically, “I know—austerity sucks.”