IN ONE of his recent public outbursts against Demetris Christofias and AKEL, the Mari explosion investigator Polys Polyviou openly accused the communist party of receiving funding from the disgraced Greek banker Andreas Vgenopoulos. His allegation drew an immediate denial from party chief who called the television show to say that Polyviou was lying and that he would face legal action.
It was the first time that someone had publicly named AKEL in connection with receiving funds from Vgenopoulos. There had been many rumours circulating, alleging that AKEL and DISY had each received in excess of €500,000, but neither newspapers nor television stations had dared repeat them so emphatically. Politis had ran a story on November 7 about the distribution of €2 million to political parties by Focus Maritime Corp, a company controlled by Vgenopoulos associate Michalis Zolotas, mentioning that two parties had received half a million each, but not naming them.
Interestingly, this was the same company that had paid €1 million into the bank account of the daughter of Christodoulos Christodoulou, a couple of months after he had stepped down as Governor of the Central Bank. Christodoulou has said that the amount was advance payment for 10 years of consultancy services that were to be offered by daughter’s company. The case is under investigation.
On the day that Polyviou made his allegation against AKEL, DISY issued a statement claiming that it had never received any money from Vgenopoulos. It admitted that it had received €500,000 to pay for students based abroad to come to Cyprus to vote in the 2008 presidential elections, but the money was raised by a group of ship-owners and transferred to the party through a Cypriot ship management company.
Understandably, no party wants to be associated with the man responsible for the collapse of Laiki, but the truth is that in 2008 Vgenopoulos was considered a reputable businessman and was the subject of glowing media reports. Back then parties were entitled to receive funding from him. He was neither the first nor the last banker that had made a big money contribution to political parties in Cyprus. In fact, party contributions by businesses are standard practice in all democracies.
The only difference is that in Cyprus there is no transparency. Such contributions are kept secret by the parties, not just raising suspicions of corruption but feeding it. AKEL may have not received money from Vgenopoulos as its party chief has said, but for months the rumours were that the banker had made a big contribution to party coffers. Rightly or wrongly, this was how many people explained the refusal of AKEL officials, including Christofias, to say anything negative about the banker in public, not even after his role in the bank’s collapse had been revealed.
As long as there is no transparency all the parties would be viewed as corrupt organisations, serving the interests of those who fund them. In the last few months, for instance, the DISY leadership has taken a strong stand against the Bank of Cyprus selling off the assets of big developers that have been unable to make loan repayments for years. This has sparked rumours that the party leadership is in the pocket of the big developers. We are sure this is not the case and the party’s stance is dictated by what it believes to be in the best interest of the economy, but without transparency people will always think the worst.
Despite pressure for more transparency from the Council of Europe the parties have been dragging their feet. They may all claim to agree to the adoption of the Council of Europe’s recommendations on party financing laws – known as the GRECO rules – but nothing has been done. Most parties are vehemently opposed to revealing the identities of those who contribute funds, on the grounds that transparency would discourage contributions. This may be true, but people who want to keep their party contributions secret are those who will ask for things in exchange from politicians. Vgenopoulos made his contributions through other companies, which may explain why all parties insist they received no funding from him.
For as long as the parties defend lack of transparency the clean-up of political life, they supposedly yearn for, will never materialise. Politicians will carry on having a bad name among the people and the political parties will continue to be viewed as agencies of dishonesty and corruption.