It is truly sad to witness a man who faithfully served the judiciary for four decades, a man who is not a politician yet responded to the nation’s need for rescue by taking the helm of an interim government at one of the most critical moments of Greek history, speaking from the podium in Parliament with tears in his eyes.
Panayiotis Pikramenos’s response to accusations that he accepted bribes in order to forward the interests of a pharmaceutical company was dramatic. I will not dwell on the case and the charges; there are others, and more qualified than me, to do this. But I will comment on the sight of a man who instead of being praised for his contribution, had to defend himself against accusations of corruption. He deserves better.
Clearly in an emotional state, he said that his first reaction to the accusations was shock. Anger, despair and disappointment soon took over, he said, stressing that he was not just the prime minister at the time in question, but also the president of the Council of State – he was the country’s top judicial official, accused of taking bribes.
Over the course of his lengthy career in the judiciary, Pikramenos handled some very important cases where huge interests were at stake, and his integrity was never questioned. “Have you heard any insinuation whatsoever against me over all these years? Tell me,” he asked the House as tears welled in his eyes.
It was a cry of despair at the attempt to cast aspersions against his personality and question his moral integrity.
Pikramenos deserves better. It was thanks to him and the interim government that Greece was able to survive an extremely difficult situation in 2012. And that was indeed an alarming time. The country was contending with incredibly tense relations with the European Union, the recapitalization of its banks, a huge outflow of deposits and the risk of ruin. It also faced international concern regarding its ability to avert a collapse.
I was in Chicago at the time for a NATO summit. During a press conference, then US president Barack Obama spoke not about the future of the alliance but about the need to prevent Grexit. Our country was represented at that meeting by another important man who served in the interim government, Petros Molyviatis.
Men like him and Pikramenos are a rare breed and we would be doing them, and ourselves, a dishonor by sullying their reputations. We want our young judges, like our young diplomats, to regard such people as role models. We musn’t allow everything to be sacrificed on the altar of other interests.