Athens Digest 21.03.2018

• Top prosecutor seeks to clear Georgiou on stats violation

• Kammenos says coalition solid despite “red lines”

• Opposition MPs walk out of Novartis committee

• Latsis Group subsidiary in talks with government for Hellenic Petroleum sale

# A senior prosecutor is calling for former Greek statistics chief Andreas Georgiou to be cleared on charges of the breach of duty, in the latest twist in a case closely watched by Greece’s creditors. Assistant Supreme Court prosecutor Efstathia Spyropoulou backed an appeal by Georgiou against a two-year suspended sentence he received last year for the alleged breach of duty in failing to properly notify board members of the Greek Statistical Authority before issuing 2009 budget figures. A former IMF official, Georgiou returned to Greece in 2010 to reorganize the Greek agency as an independent body. He stepped down at the end of his term in 2015.

# Defence Minister Panos Kammenos says reports of a rift in the government coalition are the product of “fiction writers” and vowed to maintain his political partnership with Syriza and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras until the end of the four-year term. “We are in the fortunate position of having reached our two main targets:” exiting the bailout and fighting corruption, Kammenos said after a meeting with Tsipras. Reports of tension in the coalition followed public disagreement between Syriza and the nationalist Independent Greeks over a proposed resolution of the name dispute with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. But Kammenos said collaboration between two parties remained excellent despite the existence of respective red lines. A poll for private Alpha Television, meanwhile, found that 56.5 percent oppose a solution with Fyrom that retains the name Macedonia with a modifier, while 40 percent were in favour.

# MPs from all opposition parties have walked out of a parliamentary committee investigating the alleged Novartis scandal, amid an ongoing row over procedural issues. Opposition parties accused the government of delaying tactics, while the government maintained that New Democracy was “running away” from the committee. Ten politicians have been implicated in the investigation into whether Swiss drugmaker Novartis paid bribes to boost prices and public health care use of its products. The politicians include former prime minister Antonis Samaras, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras. All the implicated politicians have vehemently denied any involvement.

# Latsis Group subsidiary Paneuropean Oil confirmed it is in talks with the government for the proposed combined sale of a 51 percent stake in oil refinery firm Hellenic Petroleum. The company said talks over the proposed privatization venture are ongoing. The state holds a 35.5 percent stake in Hellenic Petroleum while Paneuropean holds 45.5 percent. The sale would satisfy conditions set by bailout lenders, which are pressing Athens for a long-term commitment to privatisation and administrative reform after the rescue programme ends in August.

On our Radar: Schinas’ Twitter “scolding”
Margaritis Schinas, the EU Commission spokesman, has criticized the government in a Twitter post for failing to adequately credit EU funding assistance for Greek island undersea electricity link inaugurated this week by Prime Minister Tsipras. Some consider such critisism as a hint that the European Commission changes its attitude towards Tsipras’ government. But it seems that it goes deeper than that. Heading for the next year’s elections for the European Parliament, Brussels are trying to set a pro-EU agenda, capitalizing their contribution to the EU growth. National governments usually keep the glory for themselves and the blame for Brussels. But such stance has actually supported extreme anti-EU voices within the member states.