Au­thor­i­ties fi­nally have Artemis Sor­ras in their sights

Self-pro­claimed tril­lion­aire has at­tracted tens of thou­sands to his bizarre move­ment promis­ing to re­pay Greece’s pub­lic and pri­vate debt

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YANNIS PALAIOLOGOS

It seems hard to be­lieve that a man has been al­lowed to spend the last seven years claim­ing to have so much money that he would be at least 100 times richer than the rich­est man in the world and promis­ing to pay off Greece’s pub­lic debt and the debts of ev­ery ci­ti­zen without scru­tiny. The case of self-pro­claimed tril­lion­aire Artemis Sor­ras ex­poses not just Greeks’ gulli­bil­ity and their at­trac­tion to wild con­spir­acy the­o­ries – par­tic­u­larly those ac­cen­tu­ated with his brand of na­tion­al­ism, in­spired by an­cient Greece, and ra­bid anti-Semitism – but also the fright­en­ing in­ef­fec­tive­ness of the state ap­pa­ra­tus.

Fol­low­ing his ac­quit­tal in 2013 on charges of dis­sem­i­nat­ing false in­for­ma­tion af­ter a com­plaint by Ado­nis Ge­or­giadis – for­mer MP for na­tion­al­ist LAOS and New Democ­racy min­is­ter and now a vice pres­i­dent of ND – Sor­ras cre­ated an or­ga­ni­za­tion he called Con­ven­tion of Greeks. Aided by monthly mem­ber­ship fees from its fol­low­ers, which num­ber in the thou­sands, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has opened 208 branches around Greece and abroad. Sor­ras has also claimed that he will run for prime min­is­ter in the next gen­eral elec­tions. But his bizarre claims did not gar­ner wider at­ten­tion and con­cern un­til the bru­tal mur­der of a child psy­chi­a­trist in Lamia, cen­tral Greece, in De­cem­ber that led in­ves­ti­ga­tors to start look­ing more in­tensely into Sor­ras’s op­er­a­tions. Both the vic­tim and her killer were mem­bers of Con­ven­tion of Greeks.

Ac­cord­ing to a Bank of Greece doc­u­ment ad­dressed to the fi­nan­cial crime au­thor­i­ties on De­cem­ber 15, the cen­tral bank had sent a let­ter to the coun­try’s banks in Novem­ber ask­ing to be in­formed of the ve­rac­ity of claims made in ad­ver­tis­ing ma­te­rial for Con­ven­tion of Greeks that there is enough money avail­able in Greek banks to pay cit­i­zens’ debts. The pam­phlets al­lege that there is 115.5 tril­lion eu­ros – and pro­vide ac­count num­bers – which be­longs by right to ev­ery “na­tive, nat­u­ral-born Greek.” The so-called data in the ad- ver­tis­ing ma­te­rial dates to 2007 and con­tains some far­ci­cal mis­takes in the names of the banks. Mean­while, of­fi­cial fig­ures from the Bank of Greece show that de­posits in the Greek bank­ing sys­tem came to a his­toric high of 240 bil­lion eu­ros in 2009.

Eurobank, Al­pha, At­tica, Na­tional and Pi­raeus in­formed the cen­tral bank that the ac­count num­bers do not ex­ist. Ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties were no­ti­fied and a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been con­ducted by fi­nan­cial crimes au­thor­i­ties into the state of Sor­ras’s own fi­nances.

Shady back­ground

Sor­ras be­gan his cam­paign “for the lib­er­a­tion of Greece” in 2010, af­ter the coun­try signed its first bailout with in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors, by pre­sent­ing him­self as a multi-bil­lion­aire who had in­her­ited shares of Banque d’Ori­ent, a fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion that merged with Na­tional Bank of Greece in 1936 in or­der to save its de­pos­i­tors from tak­ing a hair­cut on their sav­ings. Ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Bank, how­ever, there was no sur­plus left over af­ter Banque d’Ori­ent was liq­ui­dated, so the only com­pen­sa­tion its share­hold­ers re­ceived was the 200-drachma ini­tial buy­out fee.

When the Greek cri­sis broke out, a group of in­di­vid­u­als ap­peared claim­ing to be heirs of the Banque d’Ori­ent share­hold­ers and de­mand­ing huge amounts of com­pen­sa­tion. At the same time, Sor­ras claimed to have 5 tril­lion eu­ros’ worth of Banque d’Ori­ent stocks, which he had do­nated to two non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (“Greece Shall Never Die” and “End Na­tional Debt”) for the elim­i­na­tion of pub­lic debt and other causes.

In Oc­to­ber 2011, the Third Tax Of­fice of Pa­tra (Sor­ras’s home­town) in west­ern Greece sent two let­ters to Sor­ras in­form­ing him that the tax on his claimed do­na­tion of eight Banque d’Ori­ent stocks, worth a to­tal of 5.42 tril­lion eu­ros, came to 27.1 bil­lion eu­ros. In March 2012, the Fi­nance Min­istry re­sponded in a typ­i­cally bu­reau­cratic man­ner to an in­quiry by an MP re­gard­ing how the fig­ure of 27.1 bil­lion eu­ros was reached. It added that any­thing above 500 eu­ros can only be paid to the tax ad­min­is­tra­tion by check, not­ing, how­ever, in what may have been an at­tempt at dead­pan hu­mor, that Sor­ras’s checks had “not yet been de­liv­ered.”

In June 2012, Sor­ras pre­sented the Con­sulate Gen­eral of the Repub­lic of Cyprus in New York with a pro­posal out­lin­ing how he was will­ing to lend in­debted Cyprus 48.9 bil­lion eu­ros, with zero in­ter­est and a re­pay­ment pe­riod of 50-100 years. Then, in late Septem­ber, he claimed that he gave Greece $600 bil­lion in US trea­sury bonds in or­der to pay off the coun­try’s debt and boost eco­nomic growth. The fund­ing, he said, was in the form of a 100year loan with an in­ter­est rate of 0.5 per­cent and came with two con­di­tions: that an au­dit of the debt would be con­ducted by an in­ter­na­tional com­mit­tee of ex­perts su­per­vised by the Greek Supreme Court and that any politi­cians or of­fi­cials who con­trib­uted to Greece’s bank­ruptcy would face ju­di­cial ac­tion.

At that point, the au­thor­i­ties in­ter­vened: On Oc­to­ber 4, the Fi­nance Min­istry (then un­der Yannis Stournaras) is­sued a state­ment say­ing that there was no such pro­posal or of­fer, stress­ing that such claims can “only be treated like a joke.” The Bank of Greece had also launched an in­quiry and con­cluded on Oc­to­ber 2 that the whole af­fair was a fraud, while the Bank of Mon­treal, where Sor­ras claimed to have made the de­posit, de­nied all knowl­edge of such a move.

The Amer­i­cans

The Bank of Greece’s con­clu­sions were con­firmed a few months later, in April 2013, by the US Trea­sury, which, re­spond­ing to a re­quest from the Bank of Greece, said that the doc­u­ments pre­sented by Sor­ras and his so-called busi­ness part­ner Dr Em­manouil Lam­brakis, a Greek Amer­i­can, were “not valid ne­go­tiable fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments” and that they rep­re­sented “a fraud­u­lent scheme which falsely uti­lizes names of De­part­ment of the Trea­sury of­fi­cials.” The Of­fice of the In­spec­tor Gen­eral at the US De­part­ment of the Trea­sury, in fact, rec­om­mended that the Bank of Greece reach out to ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties over the claims.

In June 2013, a first in­stance court in Athens heard a com­plaint filed by Ge­or­giadis against Sor­ras and Lam­brakis (Ge­or­giadis, as pres­i­dent of the Par­lia­ment Com­mit­tee for Greeks of the Di­as­pora, had crossed swords on tele­vi­sion with Lam­brakis over the is­sue of the $600 bil­lion). Be­cause it was a com­plaint and not a suit, Ge­or­giadis was not called to tes­tify and the only wit­nesses were peo­ple who claimed to rep­re­sent or­ga­ni­za­tions that the Bank of Greece had just months be­fore found to be nonex­is­tent or in­volved in fraud.

Nev­er­the­less, and de­spite the rec­om­men­da­tion of the US Trea­sury of­fice, the judge ruled that Sor­ras was au­tho­rized to “man­age an amount that came to $600 bil­lion” and that the de­fen­dants had “pure mo­tives” in what they had done. The judge for­warded the case to a pros­e­cu­tor to in­ves­ti­gate whether there was a case for crim­i­nal charges to be brought against those who had cast as­per­sions against the bene­fac­tor and his as­so­ciates.

Lam­brakis even­tu­ally parted ways with Sor­ras but faces much big­ger prob­lems to­day: He was ar­rested in De­cem­ber by US fed­eral au­thor­i­ties for sign­ing bo­gus pre­scrip­tions for a pow­er­ful and ad­dic­tive opi­oid over a fiveyear pe­riod. His for­mer com­rade, how­ever, con­tin­ues his pur­ported war against Greek debt (all mem­bers of Con­ven­tion of Greeks are re­quired to swear a “war­rior oath” in or­der to be ac­cepted). We can only hope that the state and its in­sti­tu­tions are fi­nally ready to fight back.

Artemis Sor­ras has lured tens of thou­sands to his na­tion­al­ist po­lit­i­cal group­ing by pledg­ing to re­pay the na­tion’s debt.

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