The dismissal is being seen as a sign that the government will have a zero-tolerance policy for perceived inappropriate behaviour.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 22/08/13
Stelios Stavridis was forced to resign as head of Greece's privatisation fund. [LinkedIn /Stelios Stavridis]
The forced resignation of the head of Greece's privatisation fund for accepting a ride on the private jet of a businessman who bought the state's gambling monopoly will not sidetrack plans to improve lagging sales of state entities, the government said.
TAIPED chief Stelios Stavridis flew on the private plane of Dimitris Melissanidis, whose Greek-Czech consortium Emma Delta acquired a 33 percent stake in the gambling monopoly OPAP.
Stavridis, who took over TAIPED six months ago after his predecessor Takis Athanasopoulos was forced out for breach of duty as chairman of a state utility, said he had done nothing wrong.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was said to be furious over the apparent conflict of interest, and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras demanded Stavridis' resignation.
"I am not a monk and I will not hide," Stavridis said, accusing the government of hypocrisy.
Greece has been struggling to sell or lease state entities. The original privatisation target of obtaining 50 billion euros by 2016 was later reduced to 15 billion euros, and TAIPED is expected to fall 1 billion euros short of the 2.5 billion euro target for 2013.
The OPAP deal was seen as a triumph, although it was sold for 78 million euros less than expected despite being one of the few money-making state enterprises.
Under Stavridis, Greece sold its natural gas network operator DESFA to an Azerbaijan company for 450 million euros, but the planned sale of the state gas company DEPA for some 900 million euros fell apart when Russian gas giant Gazprom withdrew.
Some analysts charged ineptitude, although the government said it is pushing ahead with plans to sell the money-bleeding state railways and rolling-stock operators Trainose and Rosco. It also plans to put DEPA back on the market.
Antonis Klapsis of the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens said Stavridis' forced resignation was a sign that Samaras will not tolerate any impropriety.
"In the old times nobody would have cared that Stavridis used the private jet, and nobody would have bothered to say anything. The fact that the government reacted so fast and ousted him shows they are genuinely against this sort of thing," Klapsis told SETimes.
The SYRIZA opposition party took a swipe at Samaras, saying that the Stavridis incident illustrated the mass sell-off of Greek assets at bargain prices, while denouncing privatisation as one of the greatest scandals in modern European history.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said if his party wins the elections in three years, it will negate or renegotiate the terms of the two 240-billion-euro bailouts with the Troika and attached austerity measures.
"[SYRIZA will not recognize deals] that contravene the public interest," Tsipras said.
The Stavridis affair is a mixed bag for Samaras because he appointed Stavridis, said George Tzogopoulos, research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens.
"The government should have appointed someone else," Tzogopoulos told SETimes.
Tzogopoulos said the bar for progress is not set very high, but added that the incident highlights how problematic it is to move forward with privatisation.
Greece set a 3.2-billion-euro sell-off target this year but is 315 million euros behind schedule. TAIPED's plans include selling a stake in Greece's biggest ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki.
No replacement for Stavridis as chairman has been named. Yannis Emiris, TAIPED's managing director, will handle daily operations.
"There will be absolutely no delays to the program," Emiris told Reuters, rejecting claims the OPAP deal might be reversed as a result of Stavridis' resignation.
TAPIED has its work cut out for it now to meet fiscal targets and repair the damage of losing two chiefs, said Platon Tinios, assistant professor at the University of Piraeus.
"The CEO is still in place and decisions are still being made, although there might need to be some kind of rearrangement," Tinios told SETimes.
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