In the aftermath of this weekend's infamous leak of Yanis Varoufakis audio recording with members of OMFIF in which the former finmin admitted to asset managers that in his tenure as a finmin he had engaged in preparations for a return to the Drachma, Greece has been gripped by a media frenzy debating whether Varoufakis will be charged with treason for daring to even contemplate how an exit from the EMU would take place.
To be sure, Varoufakis may have poured the initial gasoline on the fire when he admitted to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard shortly after the recording surfaced that "the context of all this is that they want to present me as a rogue finance minister, and have me indicted for treason. It is all part of an attempt to annul the first five months of this government and put it in the dustbin of history."
His concerns were certainly justified: yesterday Kathimerini reported that Greek Supreme Court prosecutor Efterpi Koutzamani on Tuesday took two initiatives in the wake of revelations by former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that he had planned a parallel banking system: she forwarded to Parliament two suits filed against the former minister last week by private citizens and she appointed a colleague to determine whether any non-political figures should face criminal charges in connection with the affair.
The legal suits were filed last week by Apostolos Gletsos, the mayor of Stylida in central Greece and head of the Teleia party, and Panayiotis Giannopoulos, a lawyer. Giannopoulos is suing Varoufakis for treason over his handling of talks with Greece’s creditors. Gletsos, for his part, accuses Varoufakis of exposing the Greek state to the risk of reprisals.
As there is a law protecting ministers, the judiciary cannot move directly against Varoufakis. It is up to Parliament to decide whether his immunity should be lifted so he can stand trial. The first step would be to set up an investigative committee.
A third suit was expected to go to Parliament after a group of five lawyers said they were seeking an investigation into whether any non-political figures should face criminal charges in connection with the Varoufakis affair. The charges would involve violation of privacy data, breach of duty, violation of currency laws and belonging to a criminal organization. It was the lawyers’ move that prompted Koutzamani to order an investigation.
As a further reminder, during the telephone call Varoufakis detailed his plan for a parallel banking system, which would involve a childhood friend, a professor at Columbia University, to hack into the ministry’s online tax system.
Varoufakis did not name the head of the General Secretariat for Information Systems, Michalis Hatzitheodorou, but the description of his role at the ministry and his background suggested he was referring to him.
In a statement on Tuesday, Hatzitheodorou rebuffed as “absolutely false” reports regarding any type of intervention in the ministry’s information systems. The GSIS, and the current general secratary, have not planned much less attempted any type of intervention in its systems, the statement said. It added that the GSIS has enacted procedures with strict specifications which guarantee the security of personal data and make such interventions by anyone impossible.
What makes matters confusing, is that the core allegation made by Varoufakis, namely that the Troika controls Greece tax revenues and had to be sabotaged, was strictly denied: European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva on Tuesday described as “false and unfounded” Varoufakis’s claims that Greece’s General Secretariat for Public Revenues is controlled by the country’s creditors.
In other words, if Andreeva is right, then Varoufakis' transgression of threatening to hijack the Greek tax system was merely hot air, and the former finmin is guilty of nothing more than self-aggrandizement.
On the other hand, if Greece does find it has a legal basis to criminally charge Varoufakis with treason merely for preparing for a Plan B, then it brings up an interesting question: if Varoufakis was a criminal merely for preparing for existing the Euro, then comparable treason charges should also be lobbed against none other than Varoufakis' nemesis - Eurogroup president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
Recall from the November 28 post that "Netherlands, Germany Have Euro Disaster Plan - Possible Return to Guilder and Mark", to wit:
The Dutch finance ministry prepared for a scenario in which the Netherlands could return to its former currency - the guilder. They hosted meetings with a team of legal, economic and foreign affairs experts to discuss the possibility of returning to the Dutch guilder in early 2012.
At the time the Euro was in crisis, Greece was on the verge of leaving or being pushed out of the Euro and the debt crisis was hitting Spain and Italy hard. The Greek prime minister Georgios Papandreou and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi had resigned and there were concerns that the eurozone debt crisis was spinning out of control - leading to contagion and the risk of a systemic collapse.
A TV documentary broke the story last Tuesday. The rumours were confirmed on Thursday by the current Dutch minister of finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, and the current President of the Eurogroup of finance ministers in a television interview which was covered by EU Observer and Bloomberg.
“It is true that [the ministry of] finance and the then government had also prepared themselves for the worst scenario”, said Dijsselbloem.
This is precisely what Varoufakis was doing too.
“Government leaders, including the Dutch government, have always said: we want to keep that eurozone together. But [the Dutch government] also looked at: what if that fails. And it prepared for that.”
While Dijsselbloem said there was no need to be “secretive” about the plans now, such discussions were shrouded in secrecy at the time to avoid spreading panic on the financial markets.
Again, precisely like in the Greek scenario.
In fact, if throwing people in jail, may round up Wolfi Schauble as well:
Jan Kees de Jager, finance minister from February 2010 to November 2012, acknowledged that a team of legal experts, economists and foreign affairs specialists often met at his ministry on Fridays to discuss possible scenarios.
“The fact that in Europe multiple scenarios were discussed was something some countries found rather scary. They did not do that at all, strikingly enough”, said De Jager in the TV documentary. “We were one of the few countries, together with Germany. We even had a team together that discussed scenarios, Germany-Netherlands.”
When the EU Observer requested confirmation from Germany, the German ministry of finance did not officially deny that it had drawn up similar plans, stating simply: “We and our partners in the euro zone, including the Netherlands, were and still are determined to do everything possible to prevent a breakup of the eurozone.”
* * *
This is quite a revelation. At that time the German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble had said that the Euro could survive without Greece. Whether it could survive without the Dutch is another matter entirely.
Fast forward 3 years when Greece, too, was making preparations for "preventing the breakup of the eurozone" in doing precisely what Schauble wanted as recently as three weeks ago: implementing a parallel currency which would enable Greece to take its "temporary" sabbatical from the Eurozone.
So one wonders: where are the legal suits accusing Dijsselbloem and Schauble of the same "treason" that Varoufakis may have to vigorously defend himself in a kangaroo court designed to be nothing but a spectacle showing what happens to anyone in Europe who dares to give Germany the finger, either literally or metaphorically.
The answer: nowhere, and they will never appear, because if Varoufakis is indeed sued it will not be because he did something that other much more "serious" Eurocrats haven't considered or done before, but simply to crucify the Greek and make him into a dramatic example for any other "peripheral" (or even core, ahem "Madame Frexit") European who would even consider taking a comparable action on their own and pushing Europe's artificial, and now expiring, monetary union to the edge of collapse.
Then again, considering just how badly Europe misjudged the third season of the Greek bailout tragicomedy, it may want to be careful: the last thing it wants is to create a martyr against what increasingly more are calling a fascist oligarchy operating, conveniently enough, out of Belgium, Frankfurt and Berlin, one whose next item on the agenda is taking advantage of the Greek crisis and finally doing away with European state sovereignty altogether handing over control of Europe to a "parliament", one which if the ECB is any indication, will also be run by a few Goldman bankers.