Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Confirmed: the econ probe is a farce

Kikis Lazarides swearing to tell the truth at the inquiry

By Loucas Charalambous

LAST WEEK I wrote about the irrational attitude of the president of the investigative committee for the economy, Giorgos Pikis, after the crazy questions he had asked former finance minister Michalis Sarris regarding the March Eurogroup meetings at which the MoU was finalised.

Pikis had suggested, through his questions, that the Eurogroup ‘strangled’ us because President Anastasiades and his minister omitted to inform Wolfgang Schaeuble, Christine Lagarde and others that Cyprus was the victim of an invasion in 1974 and that this was the reason for our bankruptcy 40 years later.

After the ‘interrogation’ of Laiki Bank’s former executive chairman Kikis Lazarides, a week later, I think we can surmise that the president of the committee is not really interested in getting at the truth. And this makes me wonder what his objectives are.

Lazarides, because of the position he held, shoulders the main responsibility for the bank’s destruction. He was the man who, together with Tassos Papadopoulos and the then governor of the Central Bank Afxentis Afxentiou, involved Laiki in the money-laundering of Milosevic’s millions, which was the main reason for HSBC’s departure from Cyprus and the sale of its 20 per cent shareholding in Laiki to Andreas Vgenopoulos’ companies.

As is well-known, after 2002 when the Milosevic scandal became public knowledge, HSBC sought to secure a bigger shareholding or, alternatively, to elect two representatives on the bank’s board of directors so it could exercise some control. It failed on both counts, as Lazarides managed to create a front, with the other big shareholders – the Lanitis family – against HSBC.

His motives were very clear. He wanted to keep control of the bank because he did not want an investigation into the scandal in which he had played the leading role. This was also the reason he rushed, subsequently, to bring Vgenopoulos to Cyprus to buy the shares from HSBC, and in turn it was Vgenopoulos who singlehandedly later wrecked the bank.

The first question anyone would have expected Pikis to put to Lazarides was to explain his involvement in the illegal transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars from Serbia used to purchase arms for Milosevic’s army. This constituted a flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions and agreements signed by our government.

This is the question that even the most clueless investigator would have put to Lazarides. Yet it was the only question Pikis did not ask. You can only conclude that the committee president is not interested in the real causes of the destruction.

He had in front of him the man who was running Laiki when it was being lambasted internationally and showing up our state internationally as a protector of international illegality. Pikis confined himself to asking for the “reasons for HSBC’s withdrawal”, and was given the following answer by Lazarides:

“All international banks examine the markets in which they have operations. Initially there were thoughts of an increase but also of a decrease in their shareholding. In the end, they decided to withdraw.”

It was that simple. The bank thought of staying, thought of leaving and in the end left. No word was mentioned over the reasons for HSBC’s departure. Pikis accepted Lazarides’ inadequate response without asking the logical, follow-up question – why did you involve the bank in the dirty dealings, turning it into Milosevic’s accomplice, violating UN sanctions and agreements signed by the government?

This was the story that earned Cyprus the reputation as a money-laundering centre which was the main charge the government faced at the Eurogroup meetings. It obviously did not interest Pikis. This is how seriously he is taking the investigation he is conducting.

This gives us the right to say that Pikis is in charge of a farce, not an investigation.

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