Speech of Mr. Yannis Stournaras, Governor of the Bank of Greece, before the Plenum of the Hellenic Parliament regarding the jurisdiction of the Ad Hoc Committee to start a preliminary investigation of the Novartis case
18/05/2018 - Speeches
Mr. Speaker of the House, ladies and gentlemen Members of Parliament,
Regarding the jurisdiction of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Novartis case, my position became known right from the start, with my speech before the Plenum on 21 February 2018, and was repeated in a letter I submitted to the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on 23 March.
As I mentioned in my speech back then, even if a “peremptory time-limit” were to apply to the offence of abuse of trust, a non-indictment proposal – as paradoxically suggested by the majority MPs – would make no sense.
As far as the alleged act of passive bribery is concerned, I argued that the work of the Ad Hoc Parliamentary Committee should not and could not be limited to the question of its jurisdiction.
Rather, its duty under the Constitution was to examine the accusations, allegations and facts and issue a report to be introduced for debate in the Plenum, which would decide whether to indict or not.
In my letter of 23 March to the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, further to what I had said before the Plenum, I pointed out that the Committee's jurisdiction on the offense of bribery was exclusive, insofar as it concerns persons falling within the scope of Article 86 of the Constitution.
This is so because it arises from the relevant article of the Penal Code that this act is considered a crime and is punishable when it is related to the duties of the accused. Therefore, the Committee and the Hellenic Parliament cannot decide differently and waive their exclusive jurisdiction under the Constitution.
My position has not been motivated by any personal interest.
In the same speech, I made clear that:
I do not invoke any limitation or peremptory time-limit, or any other exception or privilege reserved to Ministers;
and that the Hellenic Parliament and its Committee should undertake a thorough investigation, examine everything, all the accusations, all the evidence and all the information they had been provided with, and of course look for more.
During the previous debate in the Plenum, I also called on you to protect society from the consequences of a choice to leave the accusations hanging and unexamined and to prevent calumny from becoming, with your own tolerance or involvement, entrenched as an institution in the country's public life.
I reiterated this appeal in my letter to the Ad Hoc Parliamentary Committee, warning that if the Committee “washed its hands of the matter” and refused to examine the wicked and calumnious allegations, this would be tantamount to deliberately forsaking its duty to restore the reputation and credibility of the institutions and of Democracy itself that has been injured by the organised smearing campaign against statesmen and heads of institutions.
I am sad and concerned today to see that the majority of the Ad Hoc Parliamentary Committee set up to investigate the Novartis case – the biggest scandal of the post-1974 period, in the words of a Cabinet minister – chose not only to "wash its hands of the case", but also to give up on the probe, thereby in a sense surrendering to slander.
In an unheard-of move by international standards, even though the ten persons allegedly involved in the case but also the entire opposition have asked for an investigation, the majority of the Committee has refused to do so.
In my view, this refusal, despite an explicit constitutional requirement to the contrary, was due to three reasons.
First, because the Committee feared the truth that might be revealed: if it went ahead with an investigation and called the protected witnesses, this would reveal the falseness of testimonies, the total lack of evidence, the witnesses’ pending issues with Justice and/or the tax authorities, the invalidity of the witness protection status, the unbearable pressure exerted on the witnesses to testify as they did, and would also reveal the masterminds of the scheme and, ultimately, the frame-up.
It would be revealed that, rather than the biggest scandal, we are in front of the biggest frame-up that this country has seen since the restoration of Democracy in 1974.
This would also bring down the lame construct which, for one and a half year now, has been conjured by press leaks that keep being “parroted along”, by supposed shocking scoops that are always about to see the light but then are held back, by supposed exposés of fat bank accounts and luxury properties abroad that are nowhere to be found.
Second, because it was thought that without an in-depth investigation, some of the mud that had begun to fade out as soon as it was realised that data and accounts did not exist, would stick, and so the petty partisan gains would continue to accrue.
Third, because it would reveal other persons as the culprits, actually persons close to the government.
I believe these were the reasons why, unfortunately, the majority of the Committee, instead of protecting the institutions in general and Justice in particular, chose to recoil in front of the slander, thereby prolonging its devastating consequences for Democracy.
The "case of the ten", the biggest frame-up of the post-1974 period, will thus continue to cause huge damage to the country, dealing a heavy blow to its institutional underpinnings, following the damage to the institutions and the Rule of Law that has been done, and is still being done, by the well-known "Georgiou case".
This is something that has no precedent in the developed world: based on incoherent testimonies, given under pressure or even extortion by three anonymous witnesses enjoying a questionable protection status and having pending issues with Justice and/or the tax authorities, and without evidence or even indications, a parliamentary proceeding has been opened against ten selected persons, current and former holders of political office, including two former Prime Ministers, their bank accounts as well as those of their family members are opened and the persons themselves are vilified and pilloried.
Regarding me, personally, given my supra-national institutional role, I have faced further consequences and international defamation by those who have undertaken to maintain the echo of slander for partisan gains at the expense of the truth and the interest of the country.
Mr. Stelios Kouloglou, for example, a SYRIZA MEP, submitted a question for written answer to the European Parliament addressed to Mr. Mario Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), asking “Is it [the ECB] aware of the accusations against the Governor of the Bank of Greece” and “what does it intend to do to maintain its authority?”, clearly implying that after the testimonies of the hooded witnesses, I could no longer remain at the Bank of Greece and the ECB Governing Council.
Of course, he received the response he deserved from the ECB President, Mr. Draghi. The response comprised three points.
First, “the presumption of innocence”, which applies to all people, also “applies to any NCB Governor”.
Second, according to the Statute of the ECB, an NCB Governor “may only be relieved from office”…. “if he or she has been found guilty of serious misconduct”.
Third, “if an NCB Governor were unlawfully relieved from office, the Governing Council of the ECB would have the right to challenge the relevant national decision by referring it to the Court of Justice of the European Union”.
Still, the fact remains that a Greek MEP has submitted such a question at the European Parliament regarding the Governor of the Bank of Greece and Governing Council member of the ECB, in an intent to brutally defame the Governor. What he actually achieved, however, was to brutally defame his country, by showing that one of its MEPs ignores the presumption of innocence.
He also seems to ignore or feigns to ignore the fact that, if the Governor of the Bank of Greece were to be relieved from office unlawfully without a final conviction for serious misconduct, as the MEP probably wishes and suggests, the position of the Bank of Greece Governor in the ECB Governing Council would remain vacant, and his vote could not be cast until the end of his term of office in June 2020.
Against this background, and given that the Novartis case is not only a case of slander and defamation but also poses a serious threat to Democracy and the Rule of Law, it is my duty to pursue a search for the whole truth, including the names of the false witnesses and their motives, and the punishment of the physical and moral perpetrators of this frame-up, whoever they may be.
To this end, I have taken the following actions:
First, on 4 April 2018, I lodged a complaint against the anonymous witnesses under the code names MAXIMOS SARAFIS and AIKATERINI KELESI, for false testimony and perjury, false complaint and slanderous defamation, before the Public Prosecutor of the Athens Misdemeanours Court.
In my complaint, I noted that:
• No specific act or omission is mentioned which I have allegedly committed in my capacity as Minister of Finance during the period in question and from which Novartis Hellas (or any other company of the Novartis Group) has obtained any unlawful financial advantage.
• No evidence whatsoever is mentioned or produced (other than the above-mentioned testimonies by the anonymous witnesses) that I have received, directly or through a third party, money or any kind of unlawful advantage in order to promote the interests of Novartis Hellas (or any other company of the Novartis Group).
• The only indication of the unlawful acts allegedly committed by me is the fully lawful and transparent business activity of my wife's company, MINDWORK, which was used, as the false witnesses claim, to launder the money I allegedly received in order to promote Novartis' interests.
In my previous speech before the Plenum on 21 February, I provided detailed financial data and I will not tire you by repeating the reasons why this allegation of the false witnesses is not only totally false but also totally ridiculous.
• The testimonies of both witnesses MAXIMOS SARAFIS and AIKATERINI KELESI contain only speculations and arbitrary conclusions without any foundation in reality. It goes without saying that neither of them reports facts of which they have first-hand knowledge.
• At this point, I would like to emphatically stress that the Ministry of Finance had no authority (and indeed at the level of the Minister) relevant for Novartis' goals.
I submit a copy of my complaint for inclusion in the Minutes of Proceedings.
Second, on 27 March 2018, I lodged a petition before the Deputy Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court (Areios Pagos), regarding the illegitimacy of the anonymity status granted to the witnesses, to enable an investigation into their credibility, their relationship with Novartis, their financial condition and in general their motives and goals.
From the arguments put forward in that petition to the Deputy Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, it becomes clear, beyond any doubt, that these witnesses are not entitled to procedural protection under Article 45B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, since they are not whistleblowers.
Instead, they are witnesses of no probative value, because they were involved in the acts being investigated and they are motivated by self-interest.
I submit a copy of my petition for inclusion in the Minutes of Proceedings.
As far as I know, to date, the above complaint and petition have not been dismissed and I hope they will be duly considered.
Ladies and gentlemen MPs,
Particularly within the country, uninvestigated slanderous allegations have created a morbid environment enabling various people to play a petty partisan game, with no rules, to the detriment of the honour and dignity of those slandered and, worse yet, to the detriment of Justice and Democracy.
Among many cases, let me pick one example, because it concerns a relatively high ranking government official with an institutional role, thus giving rise to many questions and impressions: the Head of the Prime Minister's Press Office, who in a post on his personal Facebook account characterizes us, the ten, as “indecent” and claims that our overreaction to the slanderous testimonies of hooded witnesses deserves compassion, because, as he says, I quote:
"We in the Left have always been, in a way, professional defendants ......... Thousands and thousands of us have been put in the dock. Sometimes for minor offenses, such as disturbance of the peace, resistance to authority, contempt for law enforcement, and street activism in general. And sometimes with accusations that came with heavy penalties, life sentence or even firing squad. Let alone the throngs of people who found themselves behind barbed wire without trial. A decision would suffice...... and then the accused would head for the islands of Giaros, Aghios Efstratios, or Makronisos. You could say that we are the camp of the defendants. Others wore out their trousers at Harvard, and we wore ours out on the dock in the courtrooms.......... " unquote.
Whereas we, the ten, are, according to the Head of the Prime Minister's Press Office, I quote:
"Those on the opposite side"!! the "elite that produced police and security officers, prosecutors, ministers, prime ministers, pillars of the regime, ruthless persecutors of any subversive element − red, pink or even yellow."
The “elite” which, as he writes, "would pinch us, put us on trial, convict us, give us all sorts of police and judicial hospitality. And to see them now standing as defendants? And the bigwigs for that matter? Well, not exactly defendants, but potential defendants, to be precise, since no handcuffing, no beating, not even a trial are there as yet... "
I unquote and submit the text of the post for inclusion in the Minutes of Proceedings.
So, is this what we are for some of you, ladies and gentlemen MPs?
Is this what this frame-up is about?
Is this about us being "us" and you being "you"?
Is this because we are the "elite" which "would pinch you, put you on trial and convict you?"
I wonder, in the name of what foolish petty partisan and fascist-like considerations, using the Novartis case as a background, is the civil war of 1944-1949 revived and used as an argument in public and political debate.
I'm sure that most, if not all, of the protagonists of that period, had they been alive, would be proud of the healing of wounds after the restoration of Democracy in 1974 and of the quality of Democracy that has been achieved.
I am sure, for example, that General Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos would be proud to see his nephew, Euclid Tsakalotos, an Oxford graduate and a worthy colleague, at the government's benches, as Minister of Finance.
I am sure that my father, Thanasis Stournaras, a simple fighter of the National Resistance, Secretary of the National Liberation Front (EAM) for Fthiotida and Evia, who raised my siblings and me while in hiding for several years, would be proud to see me − also an Oxford academic − Governor of the Bank of Greece and member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank.
Both, however, would be deeply saddened at the character assassination being attempted, at the divisive, atavist and fascistoid ideological relapse to the political rhetoric, methods and practices that have been developed around the Novartis case.
If politics ceases to be the art of the real and the possible,
If the actual and necessary ideological disputes between the parties are replaced not just by political differences but by confrontation over imaginary facts,
If political debate is replaced by the defamation of others, so that these are not only "others" but also "the opposite side",
If the deep wounds that Democracy has healed are reopened and if the spirits and ghosts of the past are invoked as a way of overcoming the difficulties of the present,
Then, politics is replaced by what Marx and Engels called, in The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism, the illusion of politics.
This is how the waiver of the Committee's jurisdiction, and I am afraid of Parliament too, to investigate this case, apart from the dignity and honour of the defamed, deals a blow to Democracy and the Rule of Law as well.
This is how the waiver of jurisdiction ultimately offers arguments against Democracy and politicians irrespective of ideology and party, playing into the hands of fascistoid political groups.
This is how the unjustified prolongation of the pending issue sustains the criminal lies, contributes to creating in society the impression of generalized dishonesty of political leadership and heads of institutions of the country and creates the conditions for a social rift, throwing Democracy not two, but many steps back.
Ladies and gentlemen MPs,
I have no illusions.
Of course, for many of you, I am on the “other side”.
In a democratic society, all of us are more or less on the “other side” with respect to each other.
However, Democracy, despite its imperfections, remains the best political system, because, by accepting the fact that citizens are different, and that they have a right to be different, to be "others", it seeks to ensure that no one stands “opposite” to the other.
As Minister of Finance, and also as Governor of the Bank of Greece, I may have been and remain “other", but I have never felt to be or performed my duties "opposite" to anyone.
A Professor of Economics by occupation, I became a politician for two years when I was invited by three political parties in 2012 to help my country in a difficult period by serving as Minister of Finance.
I have performed my duties in the public interest, and not in the interest of “those on this side", at the expense of those on the “opposite side".
As Governor of the Bank of Greece, I have performed and will continue to perform my duties in an independent manner as required by the Statute of the Bank of Greece and the European Central Bank in the Governing Council of which I am a member. I have done so in line with the Treaty on European Union and always guided by the need to serve public interest and deliver monetary and financial stability.
However, neither my operational independence nor the manner in which I perform these duties place me "opposite" to anyone.
The fabrication of facts, the statement of non-existent facts by unnamed, hence non-existent, witnesses;
the refusal to examine these accusations and facts as required by the Constitution;
the "case of the ten" that is still pending in Parliament and your authority is clearly an attempt to turn political rivals but also independent officials into “opposite” and “enemies”.
With such characteristics, therefore, and with this targeting, the case of the accusations referred to Parliament is, apart from a political illusion, a frame-up, with physical and moral perpetrators.
A frame-up that demolishes the institutions and the authority of Justice, part of which appears to have been "instrumentalised" for the sake of petty partisan gains.
A frame-up that undermines Democracy itself.
I reiterate the appeal I addressed to you in closing my speech before the Plenum on 21 February:
“I call on you to fulfil the moral and constitutional obligation that you are vested with and to protect the social system from the consequences of a choice to leave the allegations hanging and unexamined, thereby preventing calumny from becoming, with your own involvement, entrenched as an institution in the country’s public life.”
To prevent this from happening, the witnesses must be immediately unveiled, their testimonies scrutinised, checking whether some of them have been or continue to be extorted, and the perpetrators and, most importantly, the instigators of this monstrosity have to be punished.
Do not surrender to slander.
Do not surrender to the unhistorical and dangerous rift that is being attempted using the “case of the ten” as a vehicle.
Defend the Rule of Law and Democracy.
Under the Constitution, you have exclusive jurisdiction and obligation to examine the case in all its aspects in depth.
I call on you to live up to this responsibility.