“A modern, 21st century left wing party must embrace the whole of society” stated, Spyridon Lappas, SYRIZA MP for Karditsa and Rapporteur of the Commission of Inquiry on Party and Media loans, on the margins of the 2nd SYRIZA Party Conference.
In a detailed interview to IBNA, Lappas speaks about SYRIZAs crack down on the “corrupt triangle of media, banks and political parties”, revealing that “media owners even chose a part of the cabinet the Prime Minister would select”. The MP explains how the triangle of corruption worked when “banks granted loans to media, the media supported the political system and the latter made sure media continued to receive loans” and provides a grim outlook on loans taken out by the PASOK and New Democracy parties, stating that the people will most likely be handed the bill for their unpaid loans and highlights the fact that this is the first time a government collects revenue from a licensing tender.
Concerning SYRIZA and its one and a half year in power Lappas was succinct: “One and a half years of government for a left wing party is like three or four decades of political experience”.
Read the full interview below
Where is the procedure of the parliamentary committee probing bank loans to political parties and media currently at?
We have concluded the introduction and all chapters and we are now rapidly headed to a conclusion. A conclusion means: this week Mr. Anastasiades is being examined, followed by Mr. Yannikos from Alter and two more witnesses from the two major parties, New Democracy and PASOK are still to be heard, two people responsible for party finances. I think we are now at the end of a long process that lasted 7-8 months. The target has already been achieved. It was twofold. First we wanted to reveal what we call the corrupt triangle of media, banks and political parties and if there are liabilities. Political liabilities have been fully uncovered and they will be – and are being – apportioned. Possible criminal offences are being examined too which interests parliament too, which is where we will end up. If such are found, a pre-inquisition committee will be formed to apportion criminal responsibilities. But I cannot comment on that now, before the complete set of evidence, documents of more than 100,000 pages and the witness’ statements have been gathered. We will look into everything immediately after.
It has been proved that there were triangular relations between media, political parties and banks. Can there be an estimation of how this influenced politics in the country?
It has not just influenced politics, it completely defined politics. According to, for example, just on opinion, the opinion of Mr. Kouris, not mine, media owners even chose a part of the cabinet the Prime Minister would select. Let’s say Kouris is wrong. However, it has been proved that banks granted loans to media, the media supported the political system and the latter made sure media continued to receive loans. All Greeks realize this now. And what upsets me very much even when I think about it is that hundreds of millions were loaned and literally were never paid back. With no guarantees or collateral. All this while even a small kiosk owner would have to place his business as collateral for a business loan, or his family home even. It is a matter of social justice which has been trampled in more than one way.
What amounts were involved overall in this triangular system?
Media have taken out 1.3 billion euros in loans and political parties received 450 million euros in now non-performing loans. It has officially been said that this money cannot be repaid. Already, Mr. Georgiadis of New Democracy is requesting a haircut. Neither New Democracy nor PASOK can repay their loans. The Prime Minister said in the debate in parliament on corruption a few days ago that PASOK would repay its loans in 400 years if it used 100 percent of state subsidies it received to this end, and New Democracy would need 130 years. You can understand that this money will never be repaid.
So the Greek people will pick up the check?
Yes, Greeks will pay via the new recapitalization of the banking system in future when banks face serious problems again.
Will criminal charges be apportioned or is there a statute of limitations in this case?
If you mean political personnel, I’m not sure which era we are talking about. If there are criminal liabilities found by the probe there is no statute of limitations. Liability of politicians of the 2000’s have been scrapped, surely. As you know charges must be brought forward in the space of two parliamentary terms. So there is nothing regarding the old political personnel. If our committee finds that there is any legal responsibility this will be apportioned properly. As for media owners and bankers, there is no statute of limitations in any case for any possible criminal action.
What about the Law that applied during the Samaras administration that provided security for those who sat on the boards of banks and other bodies? Does it still apply?
You mean the despicable amendment by three New Democracy MPs. At the time that 45 bank officials were to stand trial following the Kaloudis report, the Samaras government brought an amendment that decided there were no criminal responsibilities. We are fighting even now for this case to be re-opened.
So, has the legal framework changed?
No, it is not the legal framework. It is that the interpretation of the legal framework shows that there it is possible today that this shelved case is re-opened. In fact yesterday Mr. Stournaras said there was no reason for this to happen. That there was no reason to acquit anyone handling banking issues in this way.
Once you mentioned Mr. Stournaras, what are the responsibilities of the Bank of Greece whose policies derive from the ECB and its Governor is usually a government choice?
The BoG is a leading institution which doesn’t grant loans, it doesn’t control the loans granted. It is the top supervisory mechanism in the banking system. It knows everything; at least this is what senior managers and CEOs of banks told us in the committee. It knows the actions of each bank, how it grants loans, if there are guarantees or not. My opinion and that of all the committee members is that the supervisory and controlling role of the BoG was not administered properly, according to Law. If there was proper supervision we would not be in today’s mess.
Are there criminal liabilities facing BoG officials?
I don’t know if there are criminal responsibilities, the prosecutor could examine that. What we are looking at right now is to see what went wrong and fix it. And from now on for the “party” as a BoG official put it, to end. Or the “bubble of the 2000-2010 period, as the BoG inspector called it. This must change. The rest will be available to the prosecutors and if they see fit that charges should be brought forward, then surely that is what will happen.
The committee will arrive at a concluding report. Will these findings be signed by all members or will every party release its own conclusions?
Look, as rapporteur of the majority, I can tell you that we hope a common report can be issued. One in which all parties and all MPs participating in the committee agree. However, I understand that at some points differences cannot be bridged. Anyone following our meetings can see that. There are huge differences in the way issues are approached, the way questions are raised and in behaviour in general. So, we will find common ground in some areas but I think it will be hard to agree on all issues.
What you are hinting at is that some parties are trying to cover up responsibilities?
If you follow at the committee meetings closely you will realise that New Democracy and PASOK MPs are not particularly caustic or strict with their questions towards media executives or party officials that will come tomorrow. They want to provide some protection, something we would not accept in any case.
The people are tired of examining committees that merely arrive at fragmented conclusions based on partisan criteria. So called political “blood” is demanded by the people. They want those responsible to pay. It is tired of paying…
This is a demand by society at the time that ordinary people, taxpayers and debtors face consequences when those who hundreds of millions enjoy a special immunity for many years. This is an issue of social justice and we make sure this popular demand is heard.
Moving on to the TV licensing issue. Political parties, especially the main opposition, focused on this. Can you give us your view of the situation both as a legal expert and as representative of the parliamentary group?
I’d like to point out two things first and foremost: for 27 years the Council of State issued rulings according to which the non-licensed use television broadcasting frequencies – a public good – is illegal and abusive; second, the Council of State has stressed over a decade that a licensing tender should be carried out, meaning licenses should be acquired via competition at a cost while taxes should also be paid along with advertising levies. For the first time our government is the only one that has collected all this revenue, it had not happened so far.
The Council of State convened today for a second time in order to determine the constitutionality of or Law, the so called “Pappas Law”. I wholeheartedly hope this case is closed in a positive way for the government and the ministry because order will be finally imposed in the television broadcasting landscape, it will be cleared, the law will apply and the relations between parties, banks and media will be transparent. We don’t want to deter or block anyone willing to invest as a businessman. We want any investor though, to respect the law and rules strictly. Because we are all equal before the law.
However, both the main and minor opposition parties accuse you of favoring Kalogritsas and that proper procedure did not apply to him. And, furthermore, at some point he just happened to not be able to acquire a license. Can you comment on this?
It was not by chance [that he did not acquire a license] at all. A basic term of the competition was not met and his license was revoked exactly because such a term existed. Whoever could not make a down payment before the set deadline would see his license revoked. If the government wanted to stage a friendlier TV landscape, would it allow Alafouzos, Marinakis and Kyriacou to acquire a license? The media are the same essentially, even today. Even now 3 out of 4 stations are venomous in their criticism of the Syriza government and the party. They are even against us [MPs]. Their shows are venomous on a daily basis. It is ridiculous for anyone to claim that Syriza tried to establish a favourable media landscape. It is not the case.
A committee examined the origin of assets statements of Mr. Kalogritsas. Was the infamous farmland he used as collateral for a letter of guarantee by Attica Bank not properly checked?
The government has no direct involvement in this. The committee is exclusively responsible. I have not seen documents by the committee. I believe that in the same way that the origin of assets statements of Messrs. Alafouzos, Marinakis and Kyriacou were checked, the same applied for Kalogritsas. I say this because the committee is made up of senior civil servants. I am a member of the committee on the civil service and I want these competitions to be administered by such state officers because the Greek civil service has institutional memory which it must regain. We shouldn’t blame civil servants so easily. In any case, those who acquired a license will have their origin of assets statements examined by the committee I sit in too, the one responsible for background checks. They will be made public and fully audited to the very last cent.
You are accused that the origin of assets statements are not disclosed.
Everything will be disclosed. Every winning bidder will be fully audited, their origin of assets statements will be examined to the last euro. Be sure of that.
Let’s move on to the Syriza conference which continues here at the Tae Kwon Do Stadium in Athens today. In his opening speech yesterday Alexis Tsipras made a very different speech from the one he made at the first conference. He addressed society and was self-critical in a way that he wasn’t in previous speeches. He also set the tone for the future. How do you see the next day for Syriza? Will it transform into a party that is more open to society, will it move past leftist “obsessions” and embrace a larger part of the people?
If we don’t do this we will fail. I believe that Syriza must become a left-wing party of its members, not its officials. You know us Leftists suffer from our children’s illnesses. Unfortunately we have many of these. A modern, 21st century left wing party must embrace the whole of society. Especially a party that is in government should not embrace its officials – which is the obvious – but the entire Greek society. I believe that the Greek people have democratic sentiment and all of us must not be closed like a clam but totally open and not afraid of anyone. As for those who feel threatened by the arrival of new members, I think this is a fear of a psycho-intellectual nature, not a political nature. We must open up and be afraid of nobody. Everyone with democratic feelings should come in. You know why? Because if a left wing party in modern times – especially when it is in power – is not refreshed, it will not go very far. Our party leader and Prime Minister has realised this. This is exactly what he said yesterday when he was self-critical, that our party and organisations are closed.
Can we say that the 1.5 years of government have matured the Syriza president?
Not only the Syriza president. They matured him, the party’s officials and every last member of the party. One and a half years of government for a left wing party is like three or four decades of political experience packed into the years in power. I think we have become wiser, more efficient and experienced. But more importantly we can look any democrat in the eye, not just our party members./IBNA