NEWS

Two heads roll in bourse probe

A government-ordered probe into the stock market resulted in the resignation of two close aides of Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday when it emerged that they had traded millions of euros on the bourse in 1998-2000. Simitis accepted the resignations of State Minister Stefanos Manikas, who resigned from the Cabinet, and Michalis Neonakis, who resigned from PASOK’s Executive Bureau. Both said they were resigning out of political sensitivity, proclaimed their innocence of any illegal dealings (which was confirmed by the probe) and said they were victims of a campaign to slur the government. But the Capital Market Commission (CMC) report, which National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis presented to Parliament in a debate on the stock boom of 1999 and subsequent bust, found that Neonakis had traded more than 64 million euros, or 21.8 billion drachmas (in total turnover over the years 1998-2000) and Manikas a total of 1.5 million euros, or 510 million drachmas. Both men had been the targets of a campaign by the populist pro-PASOK newspaper Avriani which claimed they had been involved in insider trading. Both men, who are dentists, are leading members of Simitis’s reformist camp within PASOK and were elected to Parliament on the state deputy list – a favor which saves them from having to campaign for election. Tuesday’s debate concerned a petition by opposition New Democracy for a parliamentary inquiry into the stock exchange’s rise and fall. The motion was defeated by 143 to 132 votes in the 300-member Parliament, with all PASOK deputies present voting against it. The report by CMC Chairman Stavros Thomadakis found no «systematic indications of violations» by Manikas and Neonakis. But the turnover of the two caused an uproar. The fact that many investors lost large sums in the bubble made the amounts an embarrassment. Neonakis conceded that the figure of 64 million euros «truly does give cause for misunderstandings,» but added that this was the total of all purchases and sales over the period «and has no relation to the capital invested.» Christodoulakis, who said he received the report earlier on Tuesday, was accused by some of not knowing what he was doing when he dropped the bomb. There were also questions as to how much Simitis knew of the document’s contents as he was on a visit to Rome in preparation for today’s EU summit. Cabinet Secretary Socrates Cosmidis, one of Simitis’s closest aides, covered Christodoulakis fully. «Mr Christodoulakis performed his duty, he acted completely in accordance with institutions and the orders of PM Costas Simitis for complete light to be shed on the matter and for transparency,» he told Kathimerini. «There was a document from the independent Capital Market Commission following an investigation requested by the government. Could he hide this? It must be made clear that the prime minister means what he has said regarding full light to be shed on the matter, regardless of who is involved. Everyone must believe that we will continue on this path.» ND’s economy spokesman, Giorgos Alogoskoufis, commented, «The resignations… do not restore the stock exchange’s credibility.» He blamed the CMC and the government for «the stock manipulation in the pre-election period of 2000 and the ways in which some companies were overvalued when listed.» Simitis is expected to reshuffle his Cabinet and Executive Bureau in July, after the Greek EU presidency ends.