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€12mn goes astray in Greek tourism scam

Published time: December 29, 2012 16:21
Edited time: December 29, 2012 20:21
AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen

AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen

Greece has launched a probe into the national tourist organization to account for 12 million euro lost due to “irregularities.” It is the latest in a series of corruption scandals to hit debt-stricken Greece during the financial downturn.

The probe follows the arrest of three people for an attempt to embezzle thousands in company funds.

Accountants investigated the Greek National Tourism Organization’s (GNTO) books this week and discovered a 12-million euro disparity in the books. The probe was launched after GNTO’s general secretary Panos Livadas conceded that there were a few “gaps in the accounts.”

The GNTO is responsible for the promotion of Greece’s lucrative tourism industry.

Earlier this week three individuals, including former GNTO consultant Costas Vasilakos, were arrested and put into pre-trial custody on charges of embezzlement. The ex-advisor is charged with conspiring with two accomplices to cash a forged check for 147,000 euro ($194,400). The three conspirators were reportedly trying to transfer the funds to a hotel on the island of Syros.

Investigators are currently attempting to ascertain how the financial advisor got hold of a GNTO check book in the first place as he was not official authorized to do so, being only an aide to the former board secretary general, Nikoa Karahalios.

Karahalios, who left the organization on December 20, claims he was ignorant of the attempt at embezzlement and that his signature was forged on the check.

General secretary Panos Livadas praised his organization for wheedling out the scandal.

“We shall proceed with all the legal actions, and will continue to provide all the necessary help to the responsible authorities in order to reveal the truth and punish the perpetrators,”
he said in a statement.

The scam is the latest in a series of corruption scandals to wrack the debt-ridden country. According to a recent survey carried out by Transparency International, Greece is the most corrupt country in the European Union. The country’s governing coalition has pledged to put an end to corruption in government organizations as Greece tries to make headway on its crippling national deficit.

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Rotten to the core

Separately, Greece’s former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou has been implicated in a financial scandal for allegedly removed the names of three relatives from a list of suspected tax evaders.

Greece’s ruling party Pasok booted Papaconstantinou out in light of the allegations, saying that there were "clear indications" that members of his family had been deleted from the list.

"Obviously, Mr. Papaconstantinou no longer belongs to PASOK,'' it said in a statement, adding that "there is an obvious and huge issue of responsibility of Mr. George Papaconstantinou".

Papaconstantinou has denied knowledge of family member names on the list.

Greece is currently at the center of the EU’s debt crisis, its capital, Athens, regularly playing host to mass violent protests by citizens furious at harsh austerity measures. 26 per cent of the country’s population is currently unemployed and the situation is expected to get worse with no economic growth expected in Greece until 2014, according to the European Central Bank.

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