Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Greek privatization head resigns amid graft charges

Reuters, ATHENS

The head of Greece’s privatization agency and a senior finance ministry official resigned on Saturday after they were charged with breach of duty over their former role as board members of a state utility.

The resignations are a setback to Greece’s efforts to push through an ambitious reform and privatizations program in a bid to turn around the debt-laden country, which relies on aid from foreign lenders to keep afloat.

Takis Athanasopoulos, a former chief executive of state utility PPC who later took over Greece’s privatization agency, was among former board members charged on Friday for commissioning a loss-making power plant in central Greece in 2007, according to court officials. The charges came under a public embezzlement law.

In his letter of resignation to Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Athanasopoulos said he welcomed the opportunity to prove that he was wrongly charged.

“It gives me the chance to prove that the interest of PPC and the state were fully served,” Athanasopoulos said, adding he did not want the case to affect Greece’s privatization plan.

George Mergos, a general secretary in the finance ministry, was also a board member when PPC commissioned the 250 million euro (US$325 million) natural-gas-fired plant at Aliveri. He has denied any wrongdoing. The company incurred losses over 100 million euros from the plant, court officials said.

The Greek finance ministry said Stournaras had accepted both resignations and that a new head of would be named by today. A parliamentary committee will need to approve the government’s proposed candidate.

Breach of duty against the state carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The charges are against PPC’s entire 11-member board which approved the decision, including the current leader of Greece’s biggest labor union, GSEE.

As part of standard practice under Greek law, court officials will investigate before a decision is made on whether the case should come to court, a court official said.

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