In Greece, Bailout May Hinge on Pursuing Tycoons

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.06.04 By LIZ ALDERMANFEB. 26, 2015 “I have nothing against rich people,” said Panagiotis Nikoloudis. “I’m against dishonest rich people. And I’m here to get them.”

published at the New York Times

CREDIT Angelos Tzortzinis for The New York Times ATHENS — As he sifted recently through a sheaf of Greek bank ACCOUNTS held by executives, politicians and other members of the Greek elite, Panagiotis Nikoloudis, the nation’s new anti-corruption czar, was struck by some troubling numbers.

A man who was claiming unemployment benefits and declared zero income on his taxes had more than 300,000 euros, or $336,000, stashed away at his bank. Another, who told the tax authorities that his annual income was just €15,000, turned out to have €1.5 million in various bank ACCOUNTS. Mr. Nikoloudis estimated that the men had bilked Greece’s Treasury of thousands of euros in tax revenue, even as other Greeks struggled under the government’s austerity budgets and embattled economy. “I have nothing against rich people,” said Mr. Nikoloudis, a financial crimes specialist, leaning into a table one recent afternoon in his office in western Athens. “I’m against dishonest rich people. And I’m here to get them.” Continue reading

Varoufakis: ‘Bloodletting’ of Greece must stop

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As Greece’s PM attempts to temper simmering discontent within his party, his German creditors debate whether they can trust Athens to repay its debts. Yanis Varoufakis condemned Greece’s treatment as “bloodletting.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held a marathon 11-hour closed-door session with lawmakers from his left-wing Syriza party on Wednesday as he tried to WIN over hardliners who think his administration has caved to creditors.
Tsipras was elected last month on the promise to repeal bailout austerity measures, but a list of reforms accepted by Greece’s creditors at the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Eurozone on Tuesday proposed not rolling back the privatizations of government firms. That’s something Syriza promised to do during its election campaign.

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Yanis Varoufakis interview: ‘Anything’s better than austerity’

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Greek finance minister insists deal with troika has not compromised his leftist principles

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis: “The question is if we have compromised our basic principle. And the answer is a big, fat no.” Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
Damian Mac Con Uladh

Thu, Feb 26, 2015, 16:30

Last week, in between a hectic schedule of meetings with his euro zone counterparts in Brussels and colleagues and officials on his home turf, Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis found the time to attend a performance in Athens of Happy Days by Samuel Beckett, one of his favourite playwrights.
In the two-act, two-character play, Winnie is slowly sinking into a mound of earth as she engages in her daily routine as best she can, while repeatedly intoning to her increasingly indiscernible husband Willie the refrain: “Oh this is a happy day”.
For the 53-year-old economics professor turned politician, this “creative, artistic portrayal” of asphyxiation helped him escape from the tough reality of the negotiations, which he admits left him gasping for air.

The performance, at Greece’s National Theatre, was “elevating, because good art, even if it is very depressing and concerns asphyxiating topics, makes one float in mid-air with happiness. And that’s the feeling I got.” Continue reading

We didn’t u-turn on reforms: Greek finance minister

Julia Chatterley | Nyshka Chandran at

Greece’s latest deal with its fellow euro zone countries to secure an extension of its bailout program doesn’t mean the country’s new government has bowed to pressure, the country’s finance minister told CNBC.

“We didn’t get elected in order to clash with our partners, we got elected to renegotiate Greece’s deal with our partners,” Yanis Varoufakis told CNBC in an interview in Athens.

“What is a negotiation? It’s an attempt to find a compromise. The fact that we compromised is not a u-turn.”

On Tuesday, euro zone finance ministers accepted a list of Greek proposals submitted at the 11th hour, but the country’s creditors warned that the reforms must be expanded in detail before new bailout funding would be released.

As a result of the negotiations, Greece’s new government wanted to re-establish trust with the rest of Europe, Varoufakis said.

“The reason why we have this four-month period is to re-establish bonds of trust between us and our European partners as well as the IMF in order to build a new contract between us and our partners so as to put an end to this debt inflationary spiral.”

Keeping Syrzia alive

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde called the proposals “sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting point” but said they lacked “clear assurances.”

Varoufakis said implementing new legislation concerning corruption and tax evasion is his top priority. As to whether European officials will approve each and every measure passed in parliament, he said “there is going to be a great deal of toing and froing between us and the institutions and our partners.”

The trained economist was also critical of the tense negotiation process with euro zone finance ministers, saying they were dominated by “legalisms.”

“You know what I think the main problem is? European finance ministerial meetings are seldom about finance, they’re more about process and rules … and I’m not good at that. I think that when we’re talking about macroeconomics, when we’re talking about Greece’s recovery, I don’t think we have the moral right to talk as if this is applying rules.”

Leftist political party Syrzia rose to power during elections last month on promises to abolish austerity measures, but its principal task of reducing Greece’s $366 billion debt has been flatly rejected. Several Greeks, noticeably senior politician Manolis Glezos, claim the party has bent too much to European creditors, making it no different from the previous administration.

But Varoufakis rejected the notion that Syrzia has been unfaithful to Greeks: “We got elected to renegotiate Greece’s deal with our partners.”

Varoufakis said he will continue to push for debt restructuring despite a Eurogroup statement proclaiming that “Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honor their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.”

“Even though we are a government of the radical left, we come to the table with a mentality of a bankruptcy lawyer from the city of London who simply says if we have a problem with debt, you need to restructure it,” Varoufakis said.

The issue of finances

While it remains unclear how the cash-strapped nation will fund itself in the near term, especially when it faces a March deadline to repay an IMF loan, Varoufakis urged investors to look at the bigger picture.

“My message to market people is very simple. They understand that when there is a cash flow problem, which is effectively a spike for a short space of time, but the long term seems quite good, they can be confident that Europe is going to find a way of dealing with the cash flow problem.”

As to how Greece will eventually return to financial markets, it all hinges on solving “a system of three equations and three unknowns,”he said.

“The three unknowns are – the debt level and its flows, secondly investment levels and means of cranking it up, and thirdly primary surplus. … I have no doubt that Europe in the end is going to solve this system of equations and unknowns.”
Julia Chatterley
Anchor, Worldwide Exchange

Charlie Hebdo: Interview with Greek FinMin Y. Varoufakis

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The leftist satirical magazine features an interview with Greece’s Finmin who talks about the economy and social upheavals

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis appears in the latest edition of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, the second to hit stands following the January 7 attack. Varoufakis’ interview that is featured in the left-wing magazine is titled “Europe prescribes austerity, as doctors prescribe bleeding.”

“(The Radical Left Coalition) SYRIZA has been cast to play a role in the upheavals of history with the sad honor of having to repair damage left by the parties and institution of the system,” he states, adding that if pro—European governments such as the previous ones of Greece continue to “suffocate the people who elected them and lead them to despair, then the only ones who benefit are the fanatics, racists, nationalists and those who live with hatred.”

The magazine, teetering on the verge of bankruptcy before the massacre, features a cover story that depicts the Pope, a jihadist, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and far-right politician marine le pen as a pack of animals chasing after a dog with a copy of Charlie Hebdo clenched in its jaws. The headline reads, “We’re back!” (or “Here we go again!” in a FREE translation).

Apart from an interview with Varoufakis, the new issue has an interview with former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Will Butler: Clean Monday – hear the first of his tracks written after reading the Guardian

Every day this week, Arcade Fire’s Will Butler is writing a song especially for us, based on a story from the Guardian. Here’s the first, inspired by the Greek debt crisis

by Will Butler

Will Butler … Delving into Greek debt. Photograph: PR

I’m rooting for Greece. I mean, broadly, who the hell isn’t rooting for Greece? Even if you’re super right wing, or super German, or super capitalist you probably don’t want Greece tumbling out of the Euro and defaulting on its debts.
But beyond that, I like that they’re a young government. I like Yanis Varoufakis, the new finance minister. To a certain extent, I’ve bought into the media portrayal of him (from the Guardian and NPR and all over) as a straight shooting rapscallion who might – just might – be crazy enough to, um, responsibly manage the Greek financial situation? Continue reading