NEWS

De-mining NGO tied to fund fraud worth 9 mln euros

Greek police said on Monday they have smashed a racket centered around a nongovernmental organization that swindled 9 million euros in state money intended for de-mining operations in Bosnia, Iraq and Lebanon.

The head of the International De-mining Center, which was relocated from Greece to Cyprus last year, has been detained on fraud charges, the police’s press spokesman, Christos Parthenis, told reporters. Another seven people – including the detained chief’s wife as well as three current and three former members of the diplomatic service, are being sought, Parthenis said, adding that the scam was “one of the biggest cases of fraud against the Greek state and money laundering to date.”

The head of the center, a former journalist, is alleged to have purchased four properties, three in Athens and one on Rhodes, and to have been living in a luxury villa in Vrilissia, an affluent northern suburb of Athens, with his family.

The NGO is alleged to have secured 9 million euros in state funding between 2000 and 2004, ostensibly for de-mining operations in Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq.

According to police, the money was illegally obtained as the NGO did not meet funding conditions. Staff recruited by the NGO in the countries where the de-mining was to be carried out were obliged to return up to 30 percent of their salaries in bogus donations to the organization, police said. That money was used to help the NGO cover a 25-percent stake in the projects, meeting the condition for the Greek state to finance the remaining 75 percent.

Police sources added that Greek Embassy officials in countries where the de-mining was to be carried out did not monitor implementation of the operations. It remained unclear whether the operations were actually implemented in the three countries.

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