OPINION

The Altec scandal

Last April, shortly before the outbreak of the Altec stock market scandal – a scandal with far-reaching economic and political consequences that indirectly also generated current developments in the ruling party – Kathimerini criticized that group of businessmen who, like a bolt from the blue, used their extensive connections with the political system to acquire economic power, causing extensive distortions to the operation of the domestic market economy. Shortly afterward, coincidental events related to questionable business practices brought to light a major scandal (and perhaps the only scandal of that period to be disclosed) revealing a world of provocative money-making and a network of political and business entanglement. Back then, the financial crimes squad (SDOE) confirmed that Altec computer and software manufacturers, and Microland, an affiliated company, issued bogus invoices for non-existent exports to Belgium and Romania worth 47 million euros. The news caused a big stir (a number of ruling party officials were found to be involved), PASOK imposed penalties, an official investigation was launched, and the case is still outstanding at the supreme court. Suddenly, last Friday, eight years later, Altec informed stock market authorities that everything had been legal, that tax inspections had proved the exports were real and that the SDOE investigation found only violations concerning book-keeping, imposing a fine of 1.42 million euros (about 500 million drachmas) – that is, a fine far below the expected one. What’s more, the announcement was preceded by rumors of a settlement with SDOE. What are we to believe? That everyone was misled back in April only to realize their mistake eight months later? Or is it perhaps that in the meantime, the company’s political cronies sorted everything out, the firm fixed its papers and they are all now mocking us and the legal system? In other countries, where the rule of law still prevails, such incidents are investigated in depth, firms are shut down, business owners are put in jail, doubts dog the politicians involved and the political system regains its equilibrium by restoring principles of justice and order. Back here in Greece, things run differently. The political system reacts, then it defends itself by covering up its sins, it offers protection and when in trouble, it turns self-critical, switches leaders and tries to woo back the voters as if nothing wrong ever took place. As a result, impunity is the rule, the stock market scandal is left untouched, while the market and public confidence are undermined. Indeed, what does PASOK’s chairman-in-waiting George Papandreou think of this case? Does he accept the deal, the SDOE-Altec settlement, or does he deem that these are the rules of the game in the country he aspires to govern? If not, does he believe that such phenomena must be tackled and what does he intend to do to eradicate them? These are simple questions that will help us drill to the essence of politics.