Syriza to crack down on Greece’s oligarchs if it wins election

In an interview to the Financial Times, Giorgos Stathakis SYRIZAs senior economic spokesperson said the activities of the oligarchs, the 50 or so families who control most of the economic activity in Greece, will be a ‘priority for action’.

Any such move is likely to be contentious but could be welcomed,  “both by ordinary Greeks who often refer to the small poweful group as ‘davitzides’ or pimps. and the country’s international lenders”, comments the British newspaper.

This small group of powerful Greek families have exploited political connections to win contracts and exclude potential competitors, including foreign investors, FT continues.

Some in the troika feel that Greece’s austerity has not been shared fairly, with the poorer people bearing the brunt of spending cuts and tax rises while wealthier citizens and politically connected businesses were shielded by New Democracy.

Many Greeks are furious that the oligarchs and their cronies, “the 50 families who call the shots in Greece”, have apparently been able to escape the attention of SDOE, the country’s financial police, even though investigations have been stepped up as one of the conditions of Greece’s second bailout.

But more than two years after investigative journalist Costas Vaxevanis published the so-called “Lagarde list” of prominent Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, SDOE is still months away from completing its investigation.

“We reckon we can raise about €1bn from tax evaders discovered through the Lagarde list and others who secreted funds abroad, and these funds will go directly towards our programme for alleviating poverty and social exclusion,” Mr Stathakis said.

Mr Stathakis sought to rebut criticism from premier Antonis Samaras that a party with communist roots would threaten to crash the country out of the eurozone and devastate its business sector.

“We want to make life easier for businesspeople, to help remove problems with bureaucracy that they complain about . . . It’s important to be able to create jobs,” he said.

But Mr Stathakis, an economist who wrote a book on the US Marshall Plan’s contribution to Greece’s postwar reconstruction, drew a distinction with politically-connected enterprises that hurt competition and stifled economic activity.

A Syriza government would re-examine the terms of several EU-backed highway concessions awarded to Greek contractors. Construction of €7bn of roads resumed last year following a financial restructuring in which the Greek government took over a chunk of funding from a group of private banks.

“Not all these projects are problematic but there are some — including the Attiki Odos [the existing Athens airport road] that show possibly excessive rates of return for operators,” Mr Stathakis said.

If the oligarchs’ role in the economy can be shrunk, there will be more space for competitive businesses to emerge, Mr Stathakis argues.

Mr Stathakis said that a Syriza government would scrutinise three sectors of the economy where oligarchs are particularly active: the domestic media, public sector contract awards and real estate.

“Media ownership, television in particular, will be the first priority,” Mr Stathakis said. “Greece has never offered a nationwide commercial television licence for sale . . . So TV networks are all operating without any legal basis and the state has lost large amounts of revenue.”

A Syriza administration would end the practice of governments handing out television broadcasting  licences for free to their political friends. “The state would earn more than a hundred million euros from broadcasting licences ” Mr Stathakis said.

Syriza would also place Greece’s privatisation programme on hold while contentious sales were reviewed. Two big recent deals involving two of the powerful oligarchs could be at risk: a €950m sale to Greek , Chinese and Gulf investors of a concession to develop the sprawling coastal site of the former Athens international airport and a €1.2bn operating concession for 14 regional Greek airports, which awarded to a Greek-German consortium. “Both these deals still have to be ratified by parliament and if we are in power, that may not happen,” Mr Stathakis said.