Nine in 10 NGOs ‘problematical,’ says corruption watchdog

Nine out of 10 nongovernmental organizations subjected to checks by tax office officials appear “problematical” but are not necessarily guilty of fraud, the head of the country’s public administration watchdog said on Wednesday in the wake of a scandal embroiling a de-mining NGO in a 9-million-euro fraud scandal.

Most NGOs lacked the relevant documentation and accounting books, according to Leandros Rakintzis (photo), who said that “all or virtually all” Greek NGOs have never been inspected and blamed the problem on the “absence of a legislative framework.” In many cases, the NGOs have no intention of breaking the law and conform after tax inspectors inform them of their obligations, Rakintzis told Kathimerini.

After acquiring a list of 3,000 NGOs from the Finance Ministry’s General Secretariat of Information Systems earlier this week, Rakintzis asked tax authorities to start a check on some 3,000 organizations. The move came after police announced they had arrested the head of the International De-mining Center in connection to a 9-million-euro fraud case implicating another seven people.

According to the case file for that investigation, which Kathimerini has seen, the contract between the International De-mining Center and the Foreign Ministry’s International Development Cooperation Department (YDAS) for a de-mining project in southern Lebanon was signed in February 2003. However there are documents relating to expenses in January of that year. Also, the total financial budget for the southern Lebanon project was submitted to YDAS on June 11, 2003, and gained the Foreign Ministry’s approval on exactly the same day. The case file includes the testimony of the former Greek ambassador to Lebanon, during the period 1999 to 2003, who said that the de-mining program, budgeted at 884,597 euros, had been completed as planned.

The case file also includes details of a program for de-mining in Iraq budgeted at 2 million euros. It cites documents showing that the second, and final, tranche of that funding was disbursed on December 17, 2003. But on the same day, other documents indicate that the NGO’s employees made a total donation of 642,975 euros, essentially returning a portion of their salaries.