A House oversight committee meeting scheduled to discuss the co-operative bank’s demise on Thursday was marked by the departure of Disy MPs from power citing a conflict of interest and the auditor general being informed that he had been tested positive for the coronavirus during the session.
Whatever discussion took place afterwards, it was punctuated by spikes regarding the management of the bank which was closed in August 2018 under the weight of around 7.6 billion euros in bad debts.
The meeting, which was attended by Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides, started with Disy’s ruling MP Giorgos Georgiou, suggesting that MPs who may receive preferential treatment could not consider the bad debt forgiveness agreement from the cooperative to the asset management company Altamira.
Georgiou also asked how Diko’s chairman Nicolas Papadopoulos could bring the issue up for discussion when his former law firm handled the process.
Based on the reasons he gave, Georgiou said the issues at stake could not be discussed by the committee in the presence of colleagues “who have a clear conflict of interest”.
The chairman of the committee, Diko MP Zaharias Koulias, said Georgiou should not have raised the procedural issue in the presence of the officials who had been invited to attend, suggesting it was a ploy to kill the discussion on the issue.
“I understand some people don’t want the issue discussed, I understand your difficulty, but you won’t stop it,” said Koulias, an MP with millions of NPLs.
Regarding the link with the law firm, Koulias said it was no different from President Nicos Anastasiades’ connection with his former law firm, now run by his daughters.
“This applies to the president, but you don’t accept it for Diko’s president?” “
At this point, Disy’s MPs left the room, as the committee began to discuss the matter.
Shortly after, Auditor General Odysseas Michaelides also left the meeting after being informed that the rapid antigen test he had undergone upon entering came back positive for the coronavirus.
Michaelides was retested but the result was inconclusive. He was told to undergo PCR tests to determine whether or not he was infected with the virus. It was later reported that her first PCR test came back negative. The results of a second PCR were expected around 7 p.m.
The meeting resumed with the finance minister saying that for the cooperative to end up with € 7.6 billion in bad debts, that meant the problem had started long before.
“The problem was not created in 2014 or 2015, but earlier, and there was an issue the government had to deal with,” Petrides said.
“Because the term looting has been used, you realize that this is an institution that has been transformed into a political party and regional melee for decades. “
Regarding the Altamira deal, Petrides said the matter was under investigation based on the findings of an investigation. In 2017 and 2018, nine cases were referred to the police for investigation and “we are waiting for them”.
An investigation into the collapse blamed political parties for the situation leading up to 2013, but held former finance minister Harris Georgiades primarily responsible for the situation afterwards.
The good loans from the cooperative were taken over by the Hellenic Bank, while the bad debts were left with Kedipes, a state-backed entity set up to manage them.
Over the next two years, Kedipes raised 320 million euros in cash for the state, paid 130 million euros into a voluntary pension scheme for former co-op staff and 55 million euros to Hellenic Bank as part of the acquisition agreement which included asset protection.
Petrides said it was time for Kedipes to take it to the next level, perhaps dealing with cases of vulnerable people who couldn’t repay their loans and were at risk of losing their homes.
“We believe that Kedipes is in a phase of transition to become an asset management company with a key social role,” he said.
After the meeting, Koulias said the discussion would continue at all costs, as he criticized Disy for raising the issue on Thursday when he had no objections at the previous meeting.