Greek diplomats, demining NGO accused of multi-million-euro fraud

ATHENS, Feb 17, 2014 (AFP) - Greek diplomats and the head of an anti-landmine charity were among eight people facing charges Monday for misappropriating some nine million euros (S$15.5 million) in taxpayers' money destined for demining projects, police said.

Police spokesman Christos Parthenis termed it "one of the most extensive cases of fraud carried out against the Greek state" in a briefing to reporters.

Three unnamed Greek diplomats, three retired civil servants, the head of the non-governmental organisation that ran the projects a decade ago, and his wife are all being prosecuted over the case.

The Athens-based NGO, International Mine Initiative, had undertaken to clear minefields in Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq from 2000 to 2004 with funding from the Greek foreign ministry.

However, staff hired locally by IMI were apparently forced to give back up to 30 per cent of their salary in fake donations to the organisation.

This money was then allegedly used to help the IMI claim a mandatory 25-per cent monetary stake in the projects, meeting a requirement for the Greek government to fund the remaining 75 per cent, the police said.

Some of the illegally obtained funds were used for the personal expenses of the unnamed NGO chairman, who was arrested in Cyprus and has been placed in pre-trial detention.

From the police statements, it was not immediately clear how much demining was actually carried out in the three countries.

"The investigation is in progress," Parthenis said.

The Greek diplomats and retired civil servants filed the necessary paperwork to show the operation was proceeding smoothly, but in many cases the Greek embassies on the ground had no knowledge of the projects at hand, the police said.

Greek authorities have been re-examining numerous fiscal scandals dating from the past decade after the country nearly went bankrupt in 2010.

The investigations have uncovered extensive corruption in a variety of sectors, including graft among civil servants, the payment of pensions to deceased persons and the provision of disability benefits to false claimants.