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Greece - Corruption

Although the official view of institutions in Greece is that corruption is of a non-systematic nature and limited frequency, criminals seem to use it actively when dealing with the criminal justice process, customs, tax administration, and the judiciary. Investigations and trials revealed systematic and long-term corrupt relations permeating all these sectors, and political influence at all levels. Corruption pressures stem from both the important position of Greece as a transit point for smuggled cigarettes, drugs, and illegal migrants or human trafficking, and from the high levels of grey economic activity (stemming from significant informal labour inputs in certain economic sectors, or from smuggled products like oil, clothing, and cigarettes). Bureaucratic and political traditions based on nepotism and informal personal, family, or professional networks create an environment where criminals or their intermediaries easily tap into connections (in public and private sector institutions), allowing them to facilitate crimes or avoid justice.

Greek society as a whole suffers tremendously from the inefficiencies related to corruption, which appear to be endemic, and unlikely to be reduced significantly any time soon. Efforts to reform and rebuild Greece’s economy in the future will be undermined because the country’s government, businesses and civil servants not only fail to stop corruption but actively participate in it. The warning came 29 February 2012 from Transparency International Greece’s first ever assessment of the ability of important national institutions to fight corruption. The report, the first “National Integrity System assessment” in Greece, exposed the corruption problems that underlie the Greek crisis. 98 per cent of Greeks told an EU corruption survey published in February 2012 that corruption was a major problem in their country, with 88 per cent saying that corruption is part of Greek business culture.

The Greek Chapter of Transparency International closely follows developments to press for investigation and prosecution of corruption cases. Greece was in the 57th position on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index in 2008 (Greece ranked 23rd among the 27 country-members of the EU). Transparency International (TI), the best-known monitor of global corruption, publishes two major annual reports, the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) and Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The GCB is a public opinion survey assessing perceptions and experiences of corruption that measures petty and grand corruption (and compares corruption with other problems in society), evaluates the extent to which public and private institutions are considered corrupt, determines where the public believes corruption's impact is greatest, and measures bribery. The GCB results for Greece are striking: Within the Western European grouping (represented by the EU-15 minus Belgium and Sweden), Greece fell dead last in virtually every measurement.

Asked to rate the extent to which they assess the level of corruption in fifteen different sectors, Greeks produced rankings that were either the worst or next to worst of any of their Western European compatriots. Greece's rankings particularly diverge from the European norm vis-a-vis corruption in political parties, the police, the legal system, tax revenue authorities, customs, and particularly religious bodies. Here is a summary of the Greek results compared to the Western European average, by sector, on a scale of 1 to 5 (1: not at all corrupt; 5: extremely corrupt):

Sector                    Greece     WE Avg. 
------                    ------     ------- 
Political Parties         4.1        3.7 
Tax Revenue               3.8        2.9 
Legal System/Judiciary    3.7        2.9 
Religious Bodies          3.7        2.5  
Media                     3.7        3.3 
Customs                   3.5        2.7 
Medical Services          3.6        2.7
Parliament                3.5        3.3  
Business/Private Sector   3.4        3.3 
Police                    3.3        2.7
Utilities                 3.3        2.6 
Education                 2.7        2.3 
NGOs                      2.6        2.5 
Registry and Permits      2.5        2.5 
The Military              2.5        2.5 

Greeks also gave the lowest ratings among the Western Europe group when asked the degree to which they felt corruption affects different spheres of life, including political life, the business environment and personal/family life (in this rating, they tied for last place with Portugal). Worldwide, Greeks were among a select group of seven countries in which more than 70% said corruption affected political life to a large extent. The others are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bolivia, Israel, Peru, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Particularly significant for U.S. commercial interests, more than 50% of Greeks stressed the negative effects of corruption on the business environment. Finally, a far larger percentage of Greeks, 12%, admitted to having paid a bribe in 2004, compared to a Western European average of 2%. The closest Western European runner-up was Luxembourg at 6%. Worldwide, this placed Greece in the second highest category of countries whose citizens said they had paid a bribe in the previous year.

TI's second major report, the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), is a composite survey reflecting the perceptions of business people and country analysts, both inside and outside Greece. The CPI rankings for Greece are based on the Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Service and Country Forecast, the Institute for Management Development World Competitiveness Report, the annual report of the Merchant International Group, the World Economic Forum,s Global Competitiveness Report, and the annual report of the World Markets Research Centre. For 2005, the CPI gave Greece the lowest rating within the Western Europe group, with a score of 4.3. This compares to the Western European average of 7.6 (on a scale of 1 to 10).

The year 2005 saw an unusually wide range of high-level Greek officials felled by scandals related to corruption. These included a deputy minister of economy, the Vice President of the Supreme Court and even the Metropolitan Bishop of Attica (where Athens is located). Whether this represents a laudable less-tolerant approach by the Prime Minister and the society, or merely bad luck on the part of the corrupted is unclear.

It was striking to see the range of high-level Greeks who have been touched by scandal. Starting with the government, in November 2005, the Greek Parliament lifted the immunity of three of its members who had been accused of involvement in bribery: Petros Mandouvalos (independent, former ND): Accused of bribing judges and money laundering; Athanasios Papageorgiou (PASOK): Accused of favoritism in granting loans while Deputy Governor of the Agricultural Bank of Greece; K. Badouvas (ND): Accused of violations of fuel storage regulations while a businessman; One deputy minister, Adam Regouzas, was forced to resign as a result of having told a group of customs inspectors, not that they should eliminate their request for bribes, but rather moderate them. His term for the purpose of the bribes, "grigorosimo" (expedited processing) entered the vernacular as a synonym for corruption in the customs authorities. It is important to note that Regouzas himself is a former customs official.

The Greek Orthodox Church was also rocked by serious corruption allegations. It suspended in 2005 a senior bishop and an influential priest on the basis of corruption allegations involving bribery, drug dealing and sexual favors. The scandal began with the case of Archimandrite (senior-level Abbot) Yiossakis, who was originally arrested on charges of stealing from archeological sites on the island of Kythera. As the case developed, Yiossakis was also accused of serving as a middleman between lawyers and judges in an alleged trial-fixing ring. Even more damaging to the church, the scandal spread up the chain of command to Metropolitan Bishop of Attica Panteleimon, who was suspended for six months. According to press reports, Panteleimon was caught on tape recordings in which he boasted of being able to manipulate judges. Panteleimon was found to have more than US$3 million in his personal bank account. When interviewed on a local TV station, Panteleimon explained that he was "saving for a rainy day," to which the interviewer responded that the cost of a rainy day seemed to have increased significantly.

The legal system has suffered the worst barrage of accusations, with 2005 seeing a record number judges investigated, dismissed, and even jailed as a result of corruption. Specifically, over the course of the year 13 justices were dismissed, and nine temporarily suspended from duty. A further two were being prosecuted for money laundering and receiving bribes. 17 others had been indicted and disciplinary action had been initiated against 40 for charges related to corruption. Most prominently, the Vice President of Greece's Supreme Court, Achilleas Zisis, was relieved of his duties as a result of having allowed a Greek businessman on the lam to pay for the building materials used in constructing the judge's holiday home on Crete. These facts only reinforce Greeks' hesitation on relying on their legal system for recourse against corruption they encounter in their daily lives.

As important as the "grand" corruption outlined above is to Greek society as a whole, however, it is the low-level corruption that most directly touches the lives of average Greek citizens. Be it town tax authority officials, local law enforcement officers, or any of a wide-range of similar officials, post hears almost weekly stories of corruption at this level of Greek society. In August 2005 a trafficking in persons ring was uncovered in Thrace that included three police officers -- two of whom were reportedly "high ranking" -- who were accused of bringing dozens of women into Greece from Eastern Europe. The case also involved a local mayor and members of the mayor's staff.

In his 10 September 2005 economic policy speech at the Thessaloniki trade fair, P.M. Karamanlis outlined six major problems facing Greeks in their everyday life. Although the list included issues such as crime, poverty, unemployment, the very first item was corruption. This would not surprise many Greeks, who openly express their concern corruption is pervasive and appears to be getting worse. Moreover, two major reports by the organization Transparency International support this contention, with Greece receiving the lowest rating of any of its EU-15 compatriots.

The Employment Minister was forced to resign from the cabinet in April 2007 when it was revealed that one of his key staff members at the Employment Ministry was under a prosecutor's investigation for suspicious stock exchange transactions. Likewise, his successor, resigned in December 2007, in response to allegations of corruption. The Greek Merchant Marine Minister and the State Minister/Government spokesman also resigned in 2008 amid mounting criticism over property transactions, including a large land swap between the state and a wealthy monastery where the wife of the Merchant Marine Minister acted as agent.





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