White-collar crimes are the stuff that makes pulp-fiction novels and the material on which a number of great films and books have been based through the decades. We mostly think of white-collar crime as something that happens in America, as coming from a society that in many things is way ahead of Europe. Examples of the legendary dimension of big white-collar crimes are the documentary “Inside Job,” which won an Oscar, and the movie drama “Margin Call,” which was nominated for one. Both addressed the 2008 financial crisis in the US and the Lehman Brothers collapse. This year’s Academy Awards also featured white-collar crime films, “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Backed by plenty of research and material, these films shed light on big financial crimes, the subprime lending scandal, Ponzi schemes, structured bonds – a waltz of greed and corruption.
But white-collar crimes are not restricted to the silver screen and certainly not to America.
Greece has its fair share as well, according to Panayiotis Nikoloudis, who is the head of the independent anti-money laundering agency and recently presented a report on his findings to Parliament. A deputy prosecutor at the Supreme Court, Nikoloudis described in detail during his hours-long presentation how, in the runup to the collapse of the Greek economy, five banks pillaged their deposits and funneled money to members of their boards, major shareholders, cronies and big business players through dodgy loans and transfers to tax havens and offshore bank accounts. He showed evidence pointing to interbank activity, legal cover-ups, expertise in such schemes, and, of course, a steady cycle of interconnected interests that were protected by friendly media outlets and complicit politicians. Nikoloudis presented his own view of how the hierarchy of massive-scale corruption works: Of the 207 cases being investigated by his department, corrupt politicians do not appear to play a leading role, which is reserved for a very specific section of the economic elite with powerful media connections. The job of the politicians is to provide cover when it’s needed.
Proton Bank, First Business Bank, Hellenic Postbank, Halkida Bank and Bank of the Peloponnese: The list will likely grow even longer, revealing more suspects, people with money, social standing and influence, people who so far at least are believed to have made off with over 1 billion euros. The narrative provided by Nikoloudis is the stuff of a documentary film, not that of fiction.