ECONOMY

Who is hiding behind the scandal of DEKA’s stock market manipulation?

The decision by the Athens Council of Appeals Court Judges to refer to court six members of the Public Portfolio Management Company (DEKA) for stock manipulation entails a major intervention of justice into the greatest economic and political scandal of the last 30 years. This intervention is the first and most significant expression of the Greek justices’ determination to pin down the culprits of the big fraud of 1999, when a handful of entrepreneurs and politicians, using insider information, ripped off at least 1.5 million investors, obtaining billions of euros spread in Switzerland and worldwide via offshore companies. The trial DEKA officials will face concerns the purchase of shares just before the 2000 general elections; but the whole stock market affair will be scrutinized. During that period, former Prime Minister Costas Simitis kept insisting on the economy’s strength as shown by the «healthy» stock market, even when ordinary investors were protesting the loss of their savings. After all, what happened in 2000 was a direct result of the 1999 stock bubble, and was meant to deceive voters into returning PASOK to office in April 2000. When in September 1999 the bubble burst and the general index crashed from its record of 6,300 points, all those in the know dumped their overvalued stocks. Small investors grew angrier by the day and the then opposition New Democracy party cried foul. It was then that Simitis realized that he was in imminent danger of losing the elections. Sensing his vulnerability, the then prime minister asked his economy minister, Yiannos Papantoniou, and his staff to turn things around. They concluded that the money lost in the stock market could not be retrieved, but agreed that a consolidation of the share index at acceptable levels, accompanied by the appropriate PR campaign would, at least through the elections, give the public hope that the heady days of 1999 could return for the market. The mission to keep the index at 5,000 points was undertaken by a top Economy Ministry official who, in February 2000, left his desk saying that the prime minister had ordered him to bring the stock market back to normal. That is when Papantoniou pompously stated that «the decline of the market has an expiry date, the election date,» misleading investors by promising that a PASOK victory would give the stock market a boost, while knowing from his financial data that the opposite would happen. And it did, as PASOK squeaked back into office using all the tricks in the book, after which the index proceeded to fall all the way to 1,500 points. At the same time a top Economy Ministry official coordinated DEKA and the investment companies of the National Bank of Greece (NGB) and the Agricultural Bank, losing millions of euros of public money that ended up in the pockets of Greek and especially foreign traders in the know. Every morning the market opened with a decline due to lack of demand, and just before closing DEKA, NBG and Agricultural intervened by buying blue chips and artificially boosting the index. Those in the know would buy cheap in the morning (at 4,300-4,500 points) and sell in the afternoon when the index hit 5,000, raking in vast sums in the process. The appeals court judges found that DEKA’s trading lost the state 700 million euros, while Agricultural’s losses exceeded 1 billion euros. NBG’s losses are still not known. The 2000 scandal is massive and is linked politically with the 1999 fraud and the responsibilities of the government of the time. Let us hope this time that plenty of light will be shed on this dark case.