ECONOMY

How business owners escape punishment

Chinese media are abuzz these days with stories about the phenomenon of the “ding zui,” which literally means “substitute criminal,” as suspicions are growing that rich or influential people found guilty of various offenses are hiring doubles to serve their sentences.

It appears Greece has its own version of such stand-ins when it comes to flagrant crimes by the owners of food services or entertainment enterprises who can afford them. This is just one of the ways such enterprises escape the consequences of the law when they violate it. Other means include blatantly ignoring the authorities, operating without a license, replacing confiscated items and so on in a situation that has been aggravated by the abolition of the municipal police force.

Colloquially dubbed “aftoforakides,” these stand-ins may not look like the people who have hired them, as in China, but they do serve to take the state punishment for any violations their bosses may have committed. Reports suggest that their job is to be available when authorities perform inspections and be detained or arrested if a flagrant crime is found to have been committed by the enterprise.

“Their role is simply to be arrested and charged by the night magistrate,” says Kaiti Pitsouli, a company licensing official at the City of Athens. Sources say that each time an “aftoforakias” is arrested, they get about 100 euros from their boss for the trouble. Not bad for a day’s – or night’s – work.

The employer not only escapes punishment, but they almost always have a well-paid lawyer plead with the court “to keep the enterprise open during this period of high unemployment, and, unfortunately, they succeed,” says Giorgos Zounis, head of the City of Athens’s Directorate for Trade and Development.

Bars, clubs and restaurants in Greek cities and holiday resorts are among the most common offenders that local authorities and the police have to chase up when trying to impose some form of normality to the market, enforce public order and protect citizens from having their rights violated by others. Such rights include that of being able to walk on the sidewalk, which can be a challenge if one has to dodge the tables, chairs, fridges and all kinds of other items that catering institutions use to expand their businesses not only onto public walkways but also the street itself.

“More than 80 percent of the violations we confront concern tables and chairs in public spaces,” says Zounis. “In some cases, such as on Dekeleon Street [in Gazi, central Athens] and in Petralona, tables and chairs are on the actual street, hampering traffic. We confiscate them, but instead of coming to get them back and pay the fine, offenders choose to replace them with new ones – they are fairly cheap anyway. We are therefore left with a huge stock of tables and chairs and we don’t know what to do with them,” says Zounis with a wry smile.

Repeated offenses mean the guilty parties have their operating licenses revoked and their stores sealed. Yet in at least one case, pointed out to Kathimerini English Edition by a reader, a central Athens burger bar has broken the seal and continued to operate regardless. City Hall officials say the bar never had a license in the first place, and now that its owner has been found to have broken the seal – after also being arrested this summer for a series of violations such as operating without a license, filling the sidewalk with fridges, tables and stools and having speakers on the street without a license – he faces rearrest. Yet the resealing of the burger bar is still pending due to the absence of municipal police officers, who were taken off the streets this summer.