The long goodbye

«After three days in prison, everyone’s teeth turn yellow.» This line sounds like it could have come from the mouth of Raymond Chandler’s iconic noir detective Philip Marlowe in «The Big Sleep.» It could also come from the lips of any Dostoevsky hero talking about his experiences in the gulags of Siberia. Yet this line was spoken by a former politician who served time for breach of faith and was told to me by a journalist who has closely followed the details of the Siemens bribery scandal when talking about the arrest in Munich of former Siemens Hellas managing director Michalis Christoforakis. The until recently mighty company manager, an A-plus student at the Karlsruhe Polytechnic School, the man who refused to speak to Greek authorities, loosened his lips for the first time two days ago. As he sat cooling his heels in his cell in the tough Stadelheim Prison, his lawyers also talked for the first time: They spoke about the involvement of top Greek politicians in the Siemens scandal and about the threats that were made on their client’s life. The tough manager had been broken. Why did he break down? One explanation is that he has been morally, and maybe financially, ruined. Of course, this answer does not explain much. He was equally ruined before his arrest, but he didn’t sing, didn’t threaten anyone nor express his fears. He simply fled and sought shelter in the more lenient laws of Germany, far from his clients and political connections, from those who wanted him silent or gone. So, why is he talking now? Why is he threatening to point the finger at major figures? Why is he afraid for his life? Because he is now at risk of losing the most precious commodity – his freedom. Because he has made the dizzying fall from the heady corporate world of untraceable money into gritty reality. And the fall is very real, material. Because in prison, everyone’s teeth are yellow.