As accused politicians scramble to prove their wealth, the government investigates who leaked the names of the accused.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 03/10/12
Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis said his wealth is from inheritances and income from properties. [Reuters]
As Prime Minister Antonis Samaras tries to convince Greeks to accept another round of austerity measures, prosecutors are scouring a list of 33 politicians -- including the head of a political party with seats in parliament, and seven former ministers -- as part of an investigation into whether they've accumulated unreported wealth and evaded taxes.
After being named on the list, which was leaked to media sources and put on the Internet, Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis suspended himself and produced documents he said showed his wealth came from inheritances and income from properties.
A member of Samaras' New Democracy Conservatives, he was put forth as a candidate for interim prime minister in a short-lived coalition government earlier this year.
A furious scene took place in the parliament halls last week when an angry Meimarakis screamed profanities at a New Democracy colleague who had appeared on a TV show with journalist Nikos Hatzinikolaou, publisher of the Real News, the paper that leveled the claims.
While the allegations seem shocking, many Greeks say they believe the country's political ranks are riddled with corruption.
"Greeks believe these people do it because they can get away with it," Nicholas Mihalopoulou, 48, manager of a state-run betting agency, told SETimes. "It's not the first time they would have done it if it's true."
Investigators are trying to determine whether the political leaders -- all from New Democracy and its rival PASOK Socialists, who are sharing power in an uneasy coalition that includes the tiny Democratic Left -- can explain how they accumulated what are reported to be vast sums in their bank accounts.
Athens daily Kathimerini reported that Hatzinikolaou refused to give testimony in order to protect his sources, while two witnesses couldn't back their claims against Meimarakis, former Transport Minister Michalis Liapis or former Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, who also denied any wrongdoing.
Before he released his wealth report, Meimarakis said he had considered resigning. In a defiant speech to parliament last week, he condemned the claims as "Mafia-style, extortionate and roguish," and said that the leaks may have been an attempt to influence the government as it tries to push through more unpopular pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions.
George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said Greeks believe politics and corruption go hand-in-hand.
"It's like a common secret in Greek society and the problem is not to learn about this but to bring them to justice and make them pay," if they are found guilty, he told SETimes.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the investigation should be expedited, which is uncommon in Greece, to determine if anyone should be charged or has been unjustly accused.
"The justice system also has to decide who leaked the investigation documents and how," said Kedikoglou.
Takis Pappas, an associate professor in Comparative Politics in East and Southeast Europe at the University of Macedonia, said even if the probe is unfounded, it reinforces a long-held belief in Greece that politicians and the rich are above the law while nearly two million people are out of work and struggling.
"Impunity has been such a pervasive phenomenon in Greek society for such a long time, and I don't think that some punishments at the top level will be enough to reverse the problem," he told SETimes.