Dirty-money body refit

The committee formed to combat money laundering is to be disbanded and replaced by another independent body that will be under the much tighter control of Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogouskoufis, according to a bill submitted to Parliament yesterday. The move also has great political significance, as the head of the current committee, Giorgos Zorbas, who has been a thorn in the government's side for the last couple of years, will lose his position. The draft law proposes that the current panel be replaced by a new eight-member body, which will be chaired by a specially appointed prosecutor. Other members of the new committee will include a representative from the Special Investigations Service, which looks into financial crimes, one from the Bank of Greece, another from the Justice Ministry and one from the Capital Market Commission. The eight members of the new panel will serve for a three-year term before being replaced. They will effectively be under the direct control of Alogoskoufis, according to the bill. The committee will be given powers to examine public and private records without first having to obtain clearance. Zorbas, the head of the current graft-busting committee, clashed with the government last year following an investigation into the purchase of a 280-million-euro government bond by four pension funds at inflated prices. Sources suggested at the time that his report, which was never made public, indicated that Finance Ministry officials knew the government paper would be sold on to four pension funds. Leaked extracts also indicated that some intermediaries had made excessive profits and some money ended up with a political party, which was not identified. The results of the probe were never published because a prosecutor ruled that it was not valid on account of the fact it had not been signed by all 12 members of the committee against money laundering. The fallout from the probe led to tension between Zorbas and the government. About two months ago, Zorbas had asked for permission to investigate the bank accounts of persons implicated in the Siemens bribery scandal but he was never given the green light. Yesterday's move means that this probe will not proceed.