COMMENT

The stench of dirty money

By Nikos Xydakis

The start of the wave of arrests of important businessmen and high-ranking Proton Bank executives coincided with the European Union decision to agree to the disbursement of the next tranche of bailout funding for Greece.

Under certain conditions, the arrests could contribute, at least on a symbolic level, to turning around the sense of defeat and despair that is weighing down society.

According to the official version of events, the arrest of Proton board members charged with issuing bad loans was conducted as swiftly as it was in order to avert the possibility that they would try to flee the country and escape justice. The main shareholder of the bank, Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, was in fact ordered not to leave the country. Either way, the message being sent is that justice – albeit belatedly – works and is determined to bring about a catharsis. This message carries a good deal of weight with the beleaguered public by restoring a sense of justice, which has been seriously eroded in recent years.

The weak, the unemployed and the impoverished can begin to feel that justice will be done. This feeling, of course, does not make up for the very painful material losses they have suffered, but it does restore a sense of dignity on an intellectual level, and go some way toward mending their shaken faith in the country’s democratic institutions.

As such, and given that the process of catharsis is taken all the way, public sentiment toward the arrests proves that when a democracy’s institutions work as they should they strengthen morale and social cohesion.

On the other hand, the fact that the arrests took place now raises a number of other questions, such as why these awarded and much-lauded businessmen, these hyped-up managers, respected academics, media darlings and political cronies were able to lie, cheat and steal from their customers, their depositors, the state and society for so long without coming under the scrutiny of the Bank of Greece and the Ministry of Finance.

Did Greece need to be razed by the crisis in order for these crooks to be exposed – or sacrificed, maybe? Was everyone ignorant of their machinations before 2008? Couldn’t anyone smell the stench of dirty money?

The fact is that these questions must be answered for the catharsis to be complete, so maybe it’s also time for an investigation into the supervisory and monitoring mechanisms, into those who should have either been sharper at spotting the crimes or who failed to prosecute the offenders when they knew them to have dirty hands.

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