Racket leaders to answer to charges

The leaders of four major extortion and usury rackets believed to be linked to the suicide of at least one entrepreneur are to defend themselves before an investigating magistrate in Thessaloniki on Monday.

Sources have told Skai that the leader of the largest of these rackets had taken out a 4-million-euro loan from a well-known commercial bank but had not declared it in his tax statement. In paying off the loan, the suspect was effectively laundering the huge proceeds of his criminal activities, Skai understands.

The same suspect appears to be the owner of a building that a Thessaloniki tax office had been renting out for 60,000 euros annually.

So far the investigation into the activities of the four rings have led to 15 people being remanded in custody. These include a senior official of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE), two police officers and a Serbian former soccer player.

The most controversial of the defendants — the SDOE official — has allegedly admitted to having a conversation with the 58-year-old leader of one of the crime rackets but insisted that it had been part of an investigation and above suspicion.

Another eight suspects, including a journalist for state television, were granted conditional release over the weekend.

The investigation into the illicit activities of the crime rings have focused on the suicide last summer of a 45-year-old businessman who was unable to pay off huge debts to ring members. The probe is now being extended, according to sources, to determine whether the suicides of other people who had large debts can be linked to the gangs.

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