Government role in General questioned

The surprise resignation on Friday of three senior executives at Greece’s General Bank has muddied the waters in its search for a partner and raises the issue of whether the government is too closely involved in the firms it wants to sell. General Bank’s three top officials, including its managing director, Yiannis Manos, quit just weeks before presentations to potential foreign partners. The bank’s board picked Agricultural Bank’s deputy governor, Antonis Hasiotis, to replace Manos. Sources said the three executives resigned after an attempt by Greece’s Defense Ministry to replace one of them, General Manager Yiannis Mourgelas. The ministry has a large say in the running of the bank through Greece’s army pension fund, which holds a 38-percent stake. General is one of Greece’s smaller banks with a market capitalization of about 288 million euros ($253 million). Newspapers speculated that Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, who took over the ministry in October, wanted to see some of his own people leading the bank. The government had no comment yesterday. Such moves have been far from rare in Greece, where the government still holds significant ownership or interest in sectors as diverse as banking, telecommunications, energy and hotels despite a much-touted privatization program. But the change at General Bank was particularly notable for coming just as the bank was seeking to persuade foreigners to buy into it, among them France’s Societe Generale and Italy’s San Paolo IMI. «The news… brings back to the fore the problem of government involvement in the management of companies which are associated with the State,» said brokers EFG Eurobank in a morning note. Greece has had mixed success in attracting foreign investment for its companies as part of its privatization drive. OTE Telecom, though no longer majority state-owned, could not attract a foreign partner for a stake of up to 20 percent partly because of concerns that the government would continue to exert influence. «Changes (such as those at General Bank) undermine government continuity and progress,» said Kathimerini on Saturday. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, who had control over General Bank and its management as Papantoniou’s predecessor, said the executives’ resignation was «a loss.» «Mr Manos and his colleagues, for about two years, created impressive successful conditions for growth at General Bank, a bank in which only a minority share now belongs to the army pension fund, which otherwise operates as a bank in the market,» he said. – On Panamax in Far East, Deiulemar has fixed M/V «Seamaid» 74,461 dwt, built 1999, delivery Thailand March 10-15 for 12-month period at USD 7,900 daily. while Daeyang has fixed M/V «Great Bless» 73,251 dwt, built 1997, delivery China Feb. 20-25, redelivery Hong Kong, at USD 7,000 daily.

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