By Angelos Anastasiou
MARFIN Investment Group and former Laiki Bank’s boss Andreas Vgenopoulos on Tuesday released the infamous taped interview he gave to the CyBC’s Elita Michaelidou, after the public broadcaster refused to air it.
In it, Vgenopoulos reiterated his theory of a well-connected political and economic establishment in Cyprus that seeks to protect its interests by shifting the blame for the country’s economic meltdown to others.
He named names and described specific instances which, if not conclusively damning, certainly call for answers from those involved. Such answers, however, have not been forthcoming following earlier assertions by Vgenopoulos.
Ex-president Demetris Christofias and his Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias, former governors of the Central Bank of Cyprus Athanasios Orphanides and Panicos Demetriades, chairwoman of the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission Demetra Kalogirou, former Finance Minister and head of Laiki Michalis Sarris, and chairman of the House Watchdog Committee Demetris Syllouris, were but a few of the people on Vgenopoulos’ target-list.
“This political and economic establishment thought it has found an easy target in me – but they thought wrong,” Vgenopoulos said by way of getting warmed up. “My biggest mistake has been a conscious one that I have made all my life. I have never involved myself with any establishment – especially a political one – whether in Greece or in Cyprus.”
Vgenopoulos has been accused for an array of actions that have allegedly led to the eventual collapse of Laiki Bank in March 2013, when a Eurogroup decision wound it down and transferred part of it to the Bank of Cyprus.
“I am the single biggest taxpayer in Greece, I have never broken the law, and have never received a salary or a bonus from the bank,” he said. “Any mistakes I may have made during my time as the bank’s leader were the legitimate result of doing business – anyone in the field of entrepreneurship is bound to get some things right and others wrong.”
The interview had become infamous even before it was aired, for all the wrong reasons. Michaelidou had approached Vgenopoulos with a request for a two-hour televised interview, which he agreed to on condition that if the CyBC refused to air it, he would be allowed to make it public himself. Indeed, the channel mysteriously declined to schedule it for broadcast, and Vgenopoulos got it out through a Cypriot online news portal. The events seem to vindicate his frequent claim of deliberate exclusion from the airwaves, despite being one of the most talked-about protagonists in the saga of the country’s economic destruction.
“I have been fighting for this chance to air my views extensively for two and a half years,” he told Michaelidou almost gratefully. “Do you recall the Pikis commission?” he asked, referring to the three-man panel of former judges, headed by Georgios Pikis, that President Anastasiades tasked with investigating the causes of the economy’s collapse. “I sent them a letter offering to testify, but was told I could not be invited because some other investigations were ongoing. But [former boss of the Bank of Cyprus Andreas] Eliades, who was also being investigated for his role in the takeover of Uniastrum, was invited and there was no problem,” he recalled in order to evidence his claim of an unofficial gag-order against him.
Vgenopoulos had a lot to say about the House Watchdog Committee and its chairman Demetris Syllouris, none good. Its recently published report on the economy, according to the former banker, is ripe with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and arbitrary conclusions, but worse of all, he said, were the “intentional omissions.” Such intentional omissions include the fact that a 20 per cent of the €800 million in loans granted by Laiki for the purchase of MIG equity may not be recovered – included in the report – when relevant percentages for other loan categories, like 65 per cent of the total €7 billion forked out in loans to developers, were silenced – and not included in the report.
“The report had no chapter on the issue of loans given to land developers after they could not pay their existing loans,” he said. “The Committee also inexplicably did not look into the bank’s government-appointed administrations that followed our own. What is that? A mistake?”
Next on Vgenopoulos’ list of culprits was Sarris, selected to run the bank by then-governor of the Central Bank Athanasios Orphanides – also a favourite in Vgenopoulos’ target-list – in January 2012.
“While ostensibly trying to attract investors to capitalise the bank, Sarris gave interviews to international media about the bank’s state which had investors running scared,” Vgenopoulos said. “Then he claimed to have known from January 2012 that the effort to attract investors was doomed because of the bank’s problems, at a time when he repeatedly assured the local market that the bank will be saved. And then, of course, he achieved nothing and had to go to the government for €1.8 billion of bailout money in May 2012.”
With regard to Sarris’ stint at Laiki’s helm, Vgenopoulos revealed that in 2012 he repeatedly asked the CySEC’s chairwoman Demetra Kalogirou whether his behaviour – during the six months he claimed to have known the bank was unsalvageable – constituted investor misleading, never to hear back from her, he said.
“Last April I wrote to the Attorney-general, asking him to look into any possible negligence on Kalogirou’s part for her failure to act,” he said.
Pointing to his determination to finally settle all scores, this time Vgenopoulos chose to elaborate on the issue of money-laundering, which he claimed to have fought against once he assumed control over Laiki in 2006.
“When I took over the bank it was critically wounded by the Milosevic money-laundering scandal,” he said. He was referring to allegations that Laiki had been involved in the laundering of millions on behalf of the Milosevic regime in contravention of UN financial sanctions, illegally transferring bags of cash to Cyprus which was then introduced into the Cypriot financial system as legitimate funds. “I removed everyone involved in the case, many of them discreetly… and one of them the very same who was appointed chairman once the bank was nationalised.”
“But the interesting question is this: how many cases of money laundering have been investigated in Cyprus over the last seven or eight years?” he asked. “Because we keep hearing reports from Greece that Polakis Sarris’ account in Cyprus has been allegedly involved in such a case, and we also hear that Dinos Michaelides’ illegal gains were moved through a Cypriot account. So what are the authorities doing?”
Vgenopoulos signed off his accusatory diatribe with perhaps his most offensive assertion.
“Christofias, Orphanides and Kazamias never realised what happened when they agreed to the Eurogroup decision that restructured Greek private debt,” he opined. “They did not know what was to follow. Moreover, if one were to question Demetriades on what happened, he would likely not respond unless flanked by his consultants.”