ATHENS – A top-ranking Greek Finance Ministry official who resigned under fire after charges he waived fines on some 3,500 gas stations for unlawful fuel trading denied any wrongdoing and said the penalties weren’t warranted because a government electronic accounting system wasn’t working.
Yiannis Kapleris, who was charged with breach of duty in his position overseeing customs and could face life imprisonment if prosecuted and convicted, told state-run NET TV that the fines were for gas stations who failed to record within deadlines sales of vehicle fuel and heating oil and that the dates should have been recorded on the Hephaestus electronic system but that there were problems with the process. “No penalty was cancelled and in no way do late entries on the Hephaestus system, which had problems, suggest that illegal trading had taken place,” he said.
He added that a law was supposed to be passed to correct the problem and that’s why the fines were not collected. The association representing gas station owners backed Kapeleris, arguing that the penalties were of a technical nature to do with the Hephaestus system rather than for illegal trading. Speaking on the condition of anonymity to journalists, a senior Development Ministry source suggested that the Finance Ministry had been dragging its feet over the past year on the issue of employing an electronic system that could adequately check the fuel that gas stations receive from suppliers and then sell to customers.
The failure to collect the fines allegedly prompted the resignation of Diomidis Spinellis, the former General Secretary of Information Systems at the Finance Ministry and led to an investigation by prosecutor Grigoris Peponis, who – along with fellow prosecutor Siypros Mouzakitis – briefly resigned in protest against what they called political interference in their work before returning. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos then demanded Kapleris’ resignation.
Peponis and Mouzakitis are still insisting the Supreme Court reopen an investigation into their claims and said they would provide proof soon after initially refusing to name those they alleged were obstructing justice. Supreme Court Deputy Prosecutor Fotis Makris said the two would have to submit “full and detailed written explanations.” Sources told Kathimerini that Peponis and Mouzakitis were prepared to do that and that they would name the people they believed were attempting to influence their work.
The pair had recently launched investigations into a number of high-profile cases, including major tax evasion, the claims that tax officials did not collect fines on fuel trading firms, banks’ funding of bankrupt Alter TV, and allegations of benefits cheating and claims of fiddled statistics at the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT.) They were also probing the continued financing of indebted political parties by banks, claims of corruption at tax offices and major tax evasion cases, even as Peponis said Venizelos wouldn’t release the names of those who owe the country more than $60 billion in unpaid taxes.