Sunday

24th Mar 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".

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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.

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