No scene of political turmoil is complete until somebody gets investigated by prosecutors. Such is the fate of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who has become a darling of the anti-austerity, hardcore left ever since he departed his office on the eve of the 11th-hour bailout deal.
Varoufakis is being investigated for drafting a plan that would have required the Greek government to hack into private bank accounts in the event that Greece were to leave the euro and return to the drachma currency.
He has also been accused of high treason for bungling debt negotiations with the Eurozone so badly that Tsipras ended up presenting Greece with austerity measures even tougher than the plan rejected by referendum just a few weeks previously. Varoufakis’s policies of closing banks and implementing capital controls are also blamed for inflicting billions in damage on an economy that didn’t have billions to spare.
Varoufakis remains a sitting member of parliament, so early reports of his investigation by top prosecutor Efterpi Koutzamani were leavened with assurances that he is personally immunized under Greek law. However, as more details emerged and the severity of the allegations became clear, there is renewed speculation that the case could prove more than just a passing annoyance.
As the UK Guardian observes, Koutzamani is the same prosecutor who went after the far-right Golden Dawn party, and her seniority makes it difficult to portray her as a partisan tool. (She is the first woman to serve as Supreme Court Public Prosecutor.) The allegations she is investigating were highly publicized, so it is not as if this investigation comes out of nowhere. Many Greeks are furious about what Varoufakis was allegedly planning to do, if Greece walked away from the European Union’s bailout proposal, defaulted on its debts, and established its own currency.
“Judicial sources said the charges could range from dereliction of duty to overseeing the formation of a criminal gang. The latter was the central accusation brought against Golden Dawn, whose leaders are on trial,” reports the Guardian. “The five-member team tasked with organising the alternative currency – described by Varoufakis as a form of parallel liquidity – could also face accusations of participating in a criminal organisation.”
Tellingly, some of these allegations come not from opposition party members, but from fellow Syriza politicians, and big players to boot. “With his loquaciousness, with his naivety, with his zeal to prove his ideas more than anything else, it seems that he hurt the Greek issue,” said Alexis Mitropoulos, a Syriza member and current vice-president of the House.
One of the schemes that got Varoufakis in trouble involved hacking into the Greek tax agency’s computers, to bypass Eurozone regulators—a bit of skulduggery the former Finance Minister admitted to during a conference call with investors. Not only did Greeks recoil with outrage when this admission was made public by the media, but the Europeans were not amused. They have accused Varoufakis of flat-out lying about the degree of control they exerted over the tax agency’s computer systems.
Varoufakis defended himself by claiming it would have been “remiss” of him not to come up with a “Plan B” in case the deal to keep Greece in the euro fell through. That will not soothe critics who say it matters a great deal what “Plan B” says, especially if laws were broken while preparing it.
It will likely not help Varoufakis’s cause that he has “retreated to his island home” while the controversy boils over, as the Guardian reports. He has already been criticized for living in the lap of luxury while Greece collapses in financial ruin. Not long ago, he was trying to rent his island digs out for 5,000 euros a week. When the going gets rough, the Marxists retreat to their luxury estates and tell everybody else to make do with less. We can only guess what his “carbon footprint” looks like.
On the other hand, socialists around the world have long been comfortable with their leaders living like kings, and if the investigation results in no serious charges, Varoufakis will be able to claim both vindication and martyr status.
Most observers seem to think the treason charges are more than the prosecution will be able to prove, but there is less confidence that parliamentary immunity will automatically protect Varoufakis from the others. “I think that it is highly likely he will end up in a courtroom,” the Guardian quotes conservative MP and shadow Finance Minister Anna Asimakopoulou saying. And if he proceeds to win that courtroom battle, it will be the best political theater the left flank of Syriza could have asked for.