ATTORNEY-GENERAL Costas Clerides’ announcement that criminal cases would be brought, in the not too distant future, against those responsible for the collapse of the economy and the banking system was welcome news. Investigations had gathered pace and the 17 police detectives had collected evidence about the movement of funds, the purchase of bank shares by networks of companies, the re-purchase of Greek bonds, the granting of big loans on favourable terms and pay-offs, said Clerides.
By all accounts, it is a very broad and complex investigation, starting from 2006 when the notorious banker Andreas Vgenopoulos bought a controlling stake in Laiki Bank, a profitable and healthy bank at the time. With the information gathered, investigators set up a data-base with movements of money, decision dates and other relevant information. To help the investigation, the Attorney-General’s office is in the process of securing the services of a foreign firm with expertise in evaluating information. This is an excellent idea as the Cypriot police have neither the expertise nor the experience to conduct investigations of this complexity.
Clerides also revealed that criminal proceedings would be undertaken for each case separately without waiting for the overall investigation to be completed. It was re-assuring that the Attorney-General was to the point and factual about the stage at which the investigations were at, avoiding a sweeping statement or pandering to the deputies whom he briefed. And when some deputies betrayed their crude populist thinking by asking whether action could be taken to force bank executives to pay back the bonuses they had received since 2006, he diplomatically explained that such initiatives would be very difficult.
It was an unbelievable question, showing how some deputies are blind to the bigger picture. The generous bonuses did not cause the banking collapse, nor were they made illegally – perhaps in retrospect they were economically and morally unjustified – so, what would be the legal justification for taking them back? The aim surely is to put the executives who had caused the banking collapse behind bars; the return of the bonuses is irrelevant.
The new Attorney-General appears to be leading the biggest investigation ever undertaken by his office in a very professional and methodical way. He has identified the weakness of the investigating team and sought the help of experts. Also commendable was that he has kept his public statements to a minimum, focusing instead on the job at hand. He understands that the real test would be in the court-room and that to secure convictions a lot of preparatory work has to be done first. We all hope that all this hard work will eventually yield convictions.