Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Money Laundering and Blasphemy Rock Greece

Greece's parliament speaker has suspended himself today, after being implicated in a Supreme Court investigation into the finances of politicians.

Evangelos Meimarakis asked his deputies to assume his duties, following a closed door meeting with the Supreme Court prosecutor yesterday. His investigation is one of more than thirty the financial crimes squad has launched into politicians’ affairs.

The prime minister ordered the files to court for prosecution last Saturday, in the most dramatic pro-transparency policy swerve in years. The finance ministry announced that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras "asked Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to transfer the financial crimes dossier with details pertaining to politicians under investigation to the prosecutor, along with a full description of the situation. He also asked the squad to provide the prosecutor with every possible assistance on this matter."

Conservative backbencher Nikos Nikolopoulos said he was "astounded to hear [Meimarakis] was embroiled in a mammoth money laundering case" and called for the speaker’s resignation. "The speaker of parliament cannot serve from a position of hibernation or dormancy," he wrote in an open letter to Meimarakis. "And in this way the national demand for clean solutions and straight talk from politicians cannot be satisfied...Protect yourself, the parliament and democracy! Resign as speaker."

Nikolopoulos last hit the headlines with another open letter on July 6, when he stepped down as deputy labour minister after just two weeks on the job, saying that the demands of Greece's creditors should be renegotiated. He has since become a leading backbencher, supporting the opposition Syriza party's call for a parliamentary committee of inquiry into Greece assumption of its first bailout loan in May 2010. 

Earlier this month he co-ordinated the first meeting of the Renaissance Movement, an informal grouping of officials from his native Achaia and elsewhere in the Peloponnese skeptical about the reform and austerity programme accompanying Greece's bailout loans. In a sign that he could be contemplating leading a clean break with New Democracy as it prepares to bring new austerity measures to parliament, he recently met with Panos Kammenos, leader of the breakaway conservative party Independent Greeks, which denounces the bailout. "We all know what the country needs," he said at the inaugural meeting of the Renaissance Movement on September 11. "What we haven't seen is an honest, strong and effective new start."

Lawmakers are protected by immunity from prosecution, which only parliament can lift. But public outrage and abuse by lawmakers are eroding that immunity. Last week, the Supreme Court clarified that MPs could be arrested for felonies without parliamentary procedure. The ruling came after a lawmaker from the nationalist Golden Dawn party, violently evicted unlicensed vendors from a farmers’ market in Mesolongi.

Purism or Puritanism?

Golden Dawn has been making its presence felt in parliament as well as on the streets. A 27 yesr-old man faces two years in prison on charges of blasphemy, following the denunciation of Christos Pappas, one of the party's MPs, on Friday.

The arrest became inevitable under Greece’s laws, after Pappas tabled a question about a satirical Facebook page the 27 year-old had created featuring ‘Elder Pasticcio’. The fictional monk has a face like the popular pasta dish, and a beard of grated cheese. He misquotes the scriptures to say things like, “on the third day they found the baking tray empty.” The page had been taken down on September 25, to be replaced by another.

Greece is one of three European Union members with laws against blasphemy, carrying sentences of three months to two years. On September 17, Patros Tatsopoulos, a lawmaker from the radical left-wing Syriza party moved to abolish them. On the same day, Pappas called for legal action against the Elder Pasticcio page. 

Syriza issued a press release today saying, "it is unacceptable that in 2012 Greece a citizen can be arrested for satire on a personal social media page, something that only happens in Iran-style theocratic regimes...Syriza's recent position for abolishing the anachronistic and anti-democratic law against blasphemy is fully justified."

The ruling conservatives did not take a position on the arrest. In the increasingly polarised Greek political climate, the conservative-led government wants to maintain party discipline ahead of a crucial vote in October, when 11.5 billion euro are to be axed from public spending.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    I was introduced to your blog by Alicia and in reading reddit today, this article in the Guardian about Golden Dawn came up and I was wondering what your thoughts on the subject were.



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