By Angelos Anastasiou
Investigators may have managed to link Greek financier and former head of failed Marfin-Laiki Bank Andreas Vgenopoulos with the offshore company Focus Maritime Corporation, owned by Greek shipping magnate Michalis Zolotas, daily Politis reported on Friday.
The connection with Focus – and Zolotas, whom the paper has consistently deemed a “close friend and associate” of Vgenopoulos – has been vehemently denied by the Greek businessman in the past, claiming that he has met Zolotas a handful of times, but never tete-a-tete, and knows nothing about the company.
Establishing a link between Vgenopoulos and Focus would be a monumental breakthrough in the ongoing investigations of the 2013 collapse of the Cyprus economy, as the company has allegedly made some dubious transactions which have yet to be sufficiently justified, including payments of €1 million to a consultancy firm owned by former Central Bank governor Christodoulos Christodoulou in 2007, two months after his replacement at the CBC’s helm. Christodoulou, who had approved the sale of HSBC’s stake in Marfin-Laiki to Vgenopoulos the previous year – effectively giving the financier full control over the lender – claimed the payment related to consultancy services over the next ten years, paid in advance.
Other payments, according to Politis, were made by Focus to the country’s two largest parties, DISY and AKEL, in the run-up to the 2008 Presidential elections, ostensibly to fund the transfer of students to Cyprus for the vote. DISY’s campaign received €0.5 million, and AKEL €1.5 million. DISY admitted to having received €50,000 from Focus (and €450,000 from another company, Rizokarpaso Shipping), while AKEL continues to deny having received any money from the company.
The paper claimed the link was established in a lengthy report prepared by police investigators and experts commissioned to help out with the probe, which was handed to the Attorney General’s office a few weeks ago, but did not reveal any of the new evidence supporting a connection between Vgenopoulos and Focus, other than companies in which Vgenopoulos and Zolotas appear to have been appointed co-directors. But these piece of evidence, it said, had not been considered “sufficient to support the connection”.
However, citing anonymous sources “close to the investigating team”, Politis said one individual had come forth and told investigators that a small loan of €3,000 to €4,000, on the repayment of which he had fallen behind and received warning letters from Marfin-Laiki, was fully repaid by Focus, following a call to the unnamed man by Vgenopoulos himself, who allegedly assured him that “we take care of our associates”.
According to the story run by Politis, Focus Maritime Corporation funded its activities through loans received from Marfin-Laiki, totalling €286 million, and collateralised by a comparatively meagre €1.8 million.