Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Opinion

The overlooked past of the 'next PM of Greece'

  • Mitsotakis is as media darling abroad - but the Greek media have uncovered parts of a murkier past (Photo: Nea Demokratia)

The current leader of the Greek opposition, New Democracy party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is odds-on favourite to become the next Greek prime minister.

Both German and US media have dubbed him a "star of the people" offering Greece "a glimmer of hope".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

A sworn reformist, he slams nepotism and corruption.

And yet that international praise ignores hard facts - such as the inclusion of his spouse in the Paradise Papers or his personal involvement in the biggest corruption scandal of the last 30 years in Greece.

Since Mitsotakis, 49, was elected to the helm of the conservative New Democracy in 2016, he has been consistently lauded by the overwhelming majority of the international press, especially in the US and Germany: the Wall Street Journal saw in him "a glimmer of hope" for Greece. For Die Welt, he is the "new star of the people".

In the polls, his centre-right party is ahead of Syriza, the leftwing ruling party led by prime minister Alexis Tsipras, by five to 12 points. That in itself is little surprise: Tsipras was elected on an anti-austerity ticket and yet, despite the occasional sweetener, has been implementing an extreme austerity programme.

Mareva in paradise

Meanwhile, the Paradise Papers, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) into the offshore world, have tarnished the reputation of politicians, sports idols and royals all around the globe.

But Greece, omnipresent in the news cycle when it is about corruption, has strangely avoided even the slightest media attention.

Undeservingly so. Because in the latest round of leaks, one name stood out: Mareva Grabowski-Mitsotakis, the wife of Mitsotakis.

According to the report by Harry Karanikas and Thanassis Troboukis, published in daily Ethnos (ICIJ's media partner in Greece), Grabowski-Mitsotakis is one of 130 Greeks whose name shows up in the Paradise Papers.

Grabowski-Mitsotakis owned 50 percent of Eternia Capital Management, an offshore company based in the Cayman Islands which managed a fund in the British Virgin Islands.

In a long statement, Grabowski-Mitsotakis dismissed allegations of suspicious transactions, stressing, according to daily Kathimerini, that she "had little to do with the administrative aspect of the fund and was not aware of the specific legislation that applies in the Cayman Islands".

The party New Democracy dismissed the story as irrelevant.

It argued that Mitsotakis and his wife were separated at the time (before reuniting a few years later), therefore Mitsotakis had no legal obligation to declare his spouse's financial interests.

It is also the case that Grabowski-Mitsotakis has a professional life of her own: formerly, she was an executive at Deutsche Bank, and she now runs her own business.

However, an important question remains unanswered: what was the motive of the setup of this double offshore structure?

There's no evidence that Grabowski-Mitsotakis has broken any law or that Mitsotakis himself was involved in any of this.

There is, however, a coincidence linking Grabowski-Mitsotakis's offshore structure back to the party of her husband.

Stavros Papastavrou, Grabowski-Mitsotakis' lawyer, is a former top executive of New Democracy. Back in 2012, while dealing with Eternia on behalf of Grabowski-Mitsotakis, Papastavrou held a top position, first inside the New Democracy party (where he was Director of International Relations) and then inside the government as Greece's top negotiator on tax haven issues.

In fact, he was Greece's envoy in talks with the Swiss authorities regarding Greek bank accounts.

For his involvement in a separate case, the Swissleaks/HSBC affair (dubbed the 'Lagarde List' in Greece), Papastavrou paid a fine of €3.5 million to settle tax evasion and money-laundering charges.

Heir to a political dynasty

No news outlet outside Greece has picked up this particular Paradise Papers story.

In subsequent interviews with the EUobserver and Politico, Mitsotakis gave his usual speech, slamming clientelism and nepotism.

Awkwardly enough, while Mitsotakis campaigns for a smaller state, several members of his family are being remunerated by this "fat" Greek state.

He is, after all, the heir of one of Greece's biggest political dynasties with political roots dating back to the 19th century.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis' father, Constantine Mitsotakis (who died in 2017 at the age of 97) was a prime minister in the 1990s.

The Constantine Mitsotakis Foundation, with three family members on its board, has been generously funded by the state to the tune of millions.

Three members of the core family are active on the main political scene: besides Kyriakos, his sister, Dora Bakoyannis, 63, is a former foreign minister and currently an MP; and Kostas Bakoyannis, 39, nephew of Kyriakos, is a highly-ambitious regional governor.

To his credit, in December Mitsotakis vowed he would appoint no relatives to his cabinet in the event that his party comes to power.

Mitsotakis insists that "the practices of the past can no longer be tolerated". During his tenure as a minister for administrative reform and e-governance (2011-2015) his public administration reforms were praised by many. "He took delight in stirring hornets' nests", according to Politico) , especially outside Greece, as a step towards meritocracy.

Before the Paradise Papers, Siemens

Mitsotakis rightly slams the current government for turning a blind eye to corruption and disrespecting the rule of law.

But, based on his personal record in politics, Mitsotakis is no stranger to either of those ills. Because before the Paradise Papers, there was Siemens.

According to evidence presented in judicial procedures in Germany, the USA and Greece, German multinational Siemens was routinely bribing politicians in the two main parties of the time (PASOK and New Democracy) to the tune of hundreds of millions in order to secure lucrative state contracts.

Mitsotakis has been connected in multiple ways with this 'Siemens scandal', though there's no evidence linking him to any of these bribes.

In 2008 he was caught accepting for free Siemens telecoms equipment of a value of €137,000.

Mitsotakis paid for this later, after witnesses testified about the presents to the prosecutors. Similar "presents" were given to the whole Mitsotakis family, including his wife Mareva, according to invoices provided during the Siemens court case and on the testimony of Michael Christoforakos' personal secretary, Ekaterini Tsakalou.

Court evidence shows Mitsotakis maintained a more-than-close relationship with Michael Christoforakos, the former head of Siemens Greece, who has evaded his bribery trial in Greece by returning to Germany. Christoforakos had contact (either in person or by phone) with the Mitsotakis family 356 times.

This amounts to 60 percent of the total number of such contact he had with all political figures.

This and other facts linking Mitsotakis to the Siemens saga have been out in the public for almost a decade.

Since his election to the helm of the main opposition party, he was profiled by a number of international media.

Out of four profiles or interviews published by some of Germany's biggest papers (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Die Taz, Die Welt), not one of them even mentions his Siemens travails.

After all, selective amnesia is a widespread symptom for the press.

Nikolas Leontopoulos is a Greek journalist working for the Investigate Europe team of investigative journalists from all over Europe.

Malta denies secrecy in 'Paradise Papers' leak

Malta's finance minister Edward Scicluna told reporters that the Maltese-based entities named in the latest tax avoidance leaks are all listed on a public register. "There was no secrecy whatsoever," he said.

Greece looking at bond market return

Greece could issue 3-year bonds as early as this week, for the first time in three years, amid mixed signs from its creditors and rating agencies.

Greece to get €7.7bn loan next week

The ESM, the eurozone emergency fund, agreed on Friday to unblock a new tranche of aid as part of the bailout programme agreed upon in 2015.

Lessons for EU from the Greek tragedy

The Greek crisis showed the euro is more robust than people thought and that profligate states can write off public debt without leaving the currency.

News in Brief

  1. British PM to batter against EU wall on Brexit
  2. Hungary and Slovakia break EU line on Jerusalem
  3. Germany and France to overhaul EU competition law
  4. Estonia kicks out Danske Bank over money laundering scandal
  5. May and Juncker meet over Brexit on Wednesday
  6. EU promises to open up advisory groups
  7. EU agrees to limit CO2 emissions by trucks
  8. Juncker under attack in Hungary government ad

What does Poland want from the EU?

We propose several changes to the EU, derived from the political philosophy behind the current Polish government, and what Poles expect from the EU - this could be seen as a manifesto Poland wants the next European Commission to tackle.

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. 'No evidence' ECB bond-buying helped euro economy
  2. Juncker: Orban should leave Europe's centre-right
  3. College of Europe alumni ask rector to cut Saudi ties
  4. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  5. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  6. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  7. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  8. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us