NEWS

Bank warned of property ring

As authorities continue to gather information about a ring that allegedly ran a legal scam to illegally obtain the rights to dozens of properties, it emerged yesterday that the Supreme Court had been tipped off about the group’s action as early as July 2009. Police have been gathering information about the alleged ring for the last 14 months but Kathimerini has seen legal papers filed by Alpha Bank in which it alleges that four lawyers were working in cahoots with Cypriot businessmen to get their hands on properties that the bank was auctioning off after their owners defaulted on their mortgage payments. According to the bank, on the final day before the auction would take place, the lawyers would submit bogus paperwork claiming that they were owed thousands in legal fees by the homeowners, which then allowed them to stake a claim to the houses. The criminal racket is believed to have gained millions of euros in profits by illegally obtaining the rights to dozens of plots of land and buildings facing auction. Authorities believe the swindle was run by a 55-year-old civil engineer with the help of 10 key ring members, including four lawyers, a former judge and a former cleric who had been embroiled in a trial-fixing scandal that broke in 2004. An investigation by the Finance Ministry’s Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) has traced dozens of bank accounts – in Switzerland, the USA, England, Germany and Madagascar – that have been linked to the ring. Police, who believe the scam to be the biggest and most smoothly organized ever to have operated in Greece, also suspect the involvement of at least three figures from the Athens underworld.