29 July 2015 — The Real News Network
Dimitri Lascaris reports on the charges against Varoufakis and critiques the media for engaging in a smear campaign that accuses the former energy minister Lafazanis and the leaders of the Left Platform of being covert plotters (inc. transcript)
Dimitri Lascaris is a partner with the Canadian law firm of Siskinds, where he heads the firm’s securities class actions practice. Before joining Siskinds, he practiced securities law in the New York and Paris offices of a major Wall Street law firm. Last year, he was named by Canadian Business magazine as one of the 50 most influential business people in Canada, and was described by the magazine as “the fiercest advocate for shareholder rights” in Canada. He is currently prosecuting numerous securities class actions in Canada, including the Sino-Forest class action, in which his clients just negotiated the largest auditor settlement in Canadian history: a $117 million settlement with the accounting firm Ernst & Young.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
A Financial Times article published on July 24 titled Syriza’s Covert Plot During Crisis Talks to Return Drachma stated arresting the Central Bank’s governor, emptying its vaults, appealing to Moscow for help were the elements of a covert plan to return Greece to the drachma hatched by members of the Left Platform, a faction of Greece’s governing Syriza party.
Here to discuss all of this is our Athens analyst, Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a partner with the Canadian law firm Siskinds, where he heads the firm’s securities class action practice. We were both in Greece following the developments after the recent referendum. Dimitri, good to have you back.
DIMITRI LASCARIS, SECURITIES CLASS ACTIONS LAWYER IN CANADA: Good to talk to you again, Sharmini.
PERIES: So Dimitri, when we were in Athens, people openly talked about the fact that one of the strategies of the left or Syriza party should be to actually take greater control of the Bank of Greece, and also to get rid of the head of the bank. And these were open political discussions among the left of Syriza and Left Platform members. There was nothing covert about it. What do you make of this article?
LASCARIS: The article came, seems to me to amount to little more, to be completely blunt about it, than a smear job of the Left Platform. And you’re quite right, Sharmini. This was well known that the Left Platform, it was openly agitating for a reassertion of sovereignty over the currency of the country. There was for example a speech given by a leading member of the Left Platform, Costas Lapavitsas, at the Democracy Rising conference a week before this article appeared, in which he was unambiguously advocating and vigorously advocating for Greece to withdraw from the eurozone because as he sees it, that’s the only way to end austerity.
And so he even went through a six-point plan, he set forth point by point exactly the steps, at least in broad strokes, the steps that would be required for Greece to exit the monetary union and reacquire its own currency. So the notion that there was some covert plot is frankly, it strains credulity.
What is really troubling about this article more than anything is the tone of it, and the sourcing of the information. The article purports to be based upon accounts from participants in a meeting, which I’m going to talk about in a moment, as well as senior Greek officials and sympathetic journalists who were waiting outside this meeting as well as a senior Greek banker.
Now, by my count that makes a minimum of seven sources. Not one of these sources is identified by name. Furthermore, the senior Greek banker who is also not identified by name is treated in the article as a reliable source, despite the fact that the Left Platform has been openly arguing that the banking system of Greece should be nationalized and its management should be terminated and replaced. So this senior Greek banker, as I’m sure he or she well knows, would be first in line to lose his or her job were the Left Platform’s agenda to be implemented.
Quite apart from that, this anonymous sourcing of the article and the use of questionable sources, the article uses very inflammatory language. You mention the title in which it says covert plot. In the body of the article it refers to the meeting as a conspiracy to undermine the Greek state, I’m quoting it now, and also uses the phrase desperate schemes, and quote, the ruthless determination of Syriza’s leftists. And the plain implication is that there was something treasonous about this meeting.
And this is of course a very serious allegation, and not one iota of evidence has been [adduced] to support such an allegation against the members of the Left Platform.
PERIES: Dimitri, this isn’t just sloppy journalism or an effort to just split and divide Syriza itself, and it’s a very critical moment for Syriza. It’s much more than that.
LASCARIS: I think there’s more to it than simply trying to split Syriza. I think that there is an attempt here made to force Tsipras to get rid of that faction of Syriza which is least likely to capitulate to the demands of the Troika, and most likely to lead Greece out of the eurozone. And I think there’s an attempt being made here to discredit people, wherever they may be, who take the position that Greece should no longer be part of the failed monetary union and to deter those persons from openly advocating for such an outcome.
So I think there’s several things sought to be accomplished here. And based on what’s transpired since then, the article seems to have had at least preliminarily that effect. In terms of what the article says, before we get to the second disclosure that came two days after this in the Greek press, it’s alleged that the leader of the Left Platform, Lafazanis, who was the energy minister and who lost that post because he refused to support the toxic terms agreed to in Brussels on July 13 by the Greek government, that he urged the Syriza government to seize control of the Greek mint where the bulk of the country’s cash reserves are kept. This is under the control of the ECB, under the rules of the monetary union.
It’s claimed that Lafazanis in this meeting, which is said to have occurred the day after July 13, the day after the meeting in Brussels with Tsipras, that he claimed that the reserves amounted to 22 billion euros and that they would be used to pay public sector wages, pensions, and to provide for food and other necessities during the transition to a new currency. It’s claimed that the amount of the reserves was in fact 10 billion euros and that Lafazanis was quite mistaken in the amount that was available.
It’s also claimed that Lafazanis proposed that the governor of the Bank of Greece who, again, the Bank of Greece being controlled by the ECB not by the Greek government, and whose name is Yannis Stournaras, should be arrested if he resisted the seizure of the Bank of Greece by the government. And finally it’s claimed that Lafazanis hoped to secure 5 billion in prepayments of gas transit fees from Russia in return for signing up to a new gas pipeline project.
Since the appearance of this report Lafazanis is reported to have admitted that he did urge Tsipras to seize the reserves of the Bank of Greece and to use the funds for the benefit of the Greek people. But he calls the article, I’m quoting, a mixture of lies, fantasy, fearmongering, speculation and old-fashioned anticommunism. And he does, I believe he’s quite explicitly denied ever urging the arrest of the governor of the Bank of Greece.
So following hot on the heels of this article that I said, two days later–.
PERIES: Let me just clarify, this was Lafazanis who was the energy minister, who then resigned after the first prerequisite that was passed in parliament.
LASCARIS: Correct. And as I said, he’s generally perceived to be the leader of the Left Platform.
Now, two days later in a newspaper called Ekathimerini, a Greek newspaper which is a right-leaning newspaper, and it’s owned by or controlled by the family of an oligarch, Giannis Alafouzos, a Greek oligarch whose wealth came from the shipping industry and has a very hostile attitude towards Syriza, or has had in the past and has a particularly hostile attitude towards the Left Platform. It published an article about a different plan to potentially take Greece out of the Eurozone, or at least establish temporarily a parallel currency. And this plan was spearheaded by the ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
And the article is based upon a taped conversation that was apparently leaked to Ekathimerini. We don’t know by whom. And in it Varoufakis speaks to certain hedge fund representatives. And he says the following. He says that he was authorized by the prime minister in December, actually a month before the election that brought Syriza to power, to look into a parallel payment system that would operate using tax registration numbers and could eventually work as a parallel banking system. He says that he worked with a small team initially, but he would have required a team of approximately 1,000 persons to actually implement the plan, and he was never given the go-ahead to assemble that team. He said the plan would involve acquiring the tax registration numbers of individuals and corporations in Greece by hacking into the general secretariat of public revenue’s website, and that he enlisted the help of a childhood friend who was an IT expert from Columbia university to do just that, and that his friend did just that. He hacked into the website and gained access to these numbers.
From my perspective, and from the perspective of a lot of people who’ve heard and examined the account that Varoufakis gave to these hedge fund representatives, the most explosive allegation is not that he was preparing for the possibility of a Grexit. It’s that the Troika had effective control over the general secretariat of public revenues, effectively controlled the tax collection mechanism of the Greek government. And in fact the European commission came out in the last 24 hours and adamantly denied that this is the case. So very interesting that there’s this conflict in exactly who controls the general secretariat. But that would be a truly remarkable thing, if the creditors had effectively taken control unbeknownst to the Greek public of the tax collection mechanisms within the Greek state.
Nonetheless, Varoufakis does not deny the essence of this. In fact, after the issuance of this report I believe he provided a tape of the conversation to other media and it’s been reproduced. But he does say, and I think with complete justification, that it would have been irresponsible of the Greek government not to take steps of this nature to prepare for the possibility of having to issue a parallel currency.
He doesn’t come out and explain it to this degree, I think, he’s obviously correct for this simple reason. The Greek banking system has been dependent for months on emergency liquidity assistance of the ECB. And if the ECB chose, as it came very close to doing, to completely cut off the flow of funding to the Greek banking system, it’s proven itself to be quite ruthless in that regard, then it would have been essential. The Greek banking system would have collapsed. It would have been unavoidable for the Greek government to issue a parallel currency. If anything would have been irresponsible of a democratically elected government it would have been to take no steps to prepare for the possibility of a Grexit.
But what has happened since then, remarkably, is that Varoufakis is now being accused by two individuals of having actually committed treason for having taken steps that any responsible government would have taken in the extraordinary circumstances that the Greek government found itself in.
One of these individuals who’s filed this complaint is something of a comical character in Greek politics. His name is Apostolos Gletsos. He’s a former actor, he’s been referred to in the past as the Greek Hunk. He’s now the mayor of a small city in Athens. And one of his claims to fame is that shortly after becoming a mayor he commandeered a bulldozer and took down some barricades, or took out some barricades so that people could bypass a tolling booth. He was apparently offended that people were required to pay tolls to use a certain road.
And just contemplate for a second the irony of what he’s now doing. He effectively engaged in an act of civil disobedience. Whether he was right or wrong in objecting to the tolling booth is another matter. But to take this act of civil disobedience, he damaged public property, broke the law. And in fact he was arrested shortly after doing this, precisely for having damaged public property.
PERIES: And Dimitri, I understand this is going forward to parliament, these motions.
LASCARIS: Yes, yes. So now his complaint of treason, he’s alleging that Varoufakis, with no justification I think, broke the law by planning for the possibility of a Grexit. His complaint has now been forwarded to parliament because under Greek law Varoufakis has parliamentary immunity. He can’t be prosecuted unless the parliament lifts it.
Whether parliament will do that or not I don’t know, but I do know that there has been an ominous sound coming out of the Syriza leadership. Yesterday aides of the prime minister were quoted in the Guardian, I believe, as stating that they had tired of Varoufakis. And so one wonders whether they’re getting ready to throw the ex-finance minister under the bus. Hopefully that, it won’t come to that. Because whatever criticisms can be leveled against Varoufakis one that would certainly not be justified is that he took steps to protect Greece from a forced exit from the monetary union.
PERIES: And Dimitri, do we know why the former finance minister found it necessary to hire a hacker to access his own financial tax base, of his own country?
LASCARIS: According to Varoufakis it’s because they don’t control access. The Greek government doesn’t control access to these tax registration numbers. That’s under control of the creditors. What technically that means precisely is unclear, but generally speaking, that’s the reason he gave for having to enlist the assistance of an IT expert to make this hack.
But as I said, the European Commission is adamantly denying that it controls the general secretariat of public revenues in Greece.
PERIES: Interesting. I will be following this along with you, Dimitri, and hope to have you back very soon.
LASCARIS: Thanks, Sharmini.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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