As soon as she took over the job as Greece's development minister, Anna Diamantopoulou fired the agency's investment office after two of its members were arrested on charges of blackmail: withholding contracts unless they were paid bribes.
"We must show zero tolerance towards those who break their vows," said Diamantopoulou, repeating an oft-used refrain by political leaders who set off on frequent corruption crackdowns with no results. With a financial crisis crushing the country's economy and spirit, she has sounded a different tune.
Costas Bakouris, the head of the Transparency International office in Greece, said that graft is so expected in the country that citizens don't see it as lawlessness.
"We need to force people to behave and enforce the law. If there are opportunities [for bribery] and people understand there are no consequences, they will continue to do it. People can't keep up their selfish ways," Bakouris told SETimes.
From paying driving exam officials an expected bribe to get a license, to giving a state-paid doctor extra money to insure better care, to handing the ubiquitous "fakelaki" -- a cash-stuffed envelope -- to a public official or private professional, Greece is so rife with corruption, it seems embedded in the nation's fabric.
Bribery comes with a cost, said Bakouris, who earlier told SKAI TV that, "In some cases, the laws actually condone graft," because there are unclear regulations and loopholes that allow violators to escape punishment.
"In theory, Greece appears to be doing fine," he said. "In reality though, laws are violated and those breaking the law are legitimised," Bakouris said, noting that Greece is suffering a "crisis of values."
"With the crisis, the fight against corruption was small, but now some good things are happening. We are starting to see some law-enforcing actions. People can't keep on with corruption or there will be consequences. The majority realised that the way we behave and do business, not being socially responsible, will lead us to catastrophe," he added.
Greece was ranked 80th out of 183 countries in Transparency International's 2011 corruption perceptions index, below countries like Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Cuba. Bulgaria was the only nation to rank lower in the EU and Western Europe. The judiciary, media, and business world are the most susceptible to corruption, the report said.
Diomidis Spinellis, a former finance ministry official, angered tax collectors by alleging their profession was ridden with corruption, and called on Greeks to go online and report cases of bribery, extortion and blackmail.
The Athens daily Kathimerini reported it was standard practice for officials to ask for a cut of any state funding for contracts they were awarded, commonly 2-4%.
Greece's Court of Audit discovered that 658m euros was unlawfully spent in 2009 as the economic crisis was unfolding, including contracts handed out without a bidding process, unearned bonuses and contracts to private contractors for work that should have been carried out by public workers. No one has been prosecuted, but people who took the money unlawfully were asked to return it.
Dimitri Sotiropoulos, a professor of political sociology at the University of Athens and a research associate at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said Greece may be still changing, pointing to Diamantopoulou's house cleaning.
"She completely revamped the direction for private investments," he told SETimes. "I don't think everybody is on the take. There are enclaves of corruption, including people who are difficult to apprehend because there are deals under the table."
- The State of the World: Germany's Strategy
- Challenges for Europe's Economic Core: Germany
- Russia's Energy Plans for Turkey
- European Economies At Risk - Ireland
- European Economies At Risk - Italy
- European Economies At Risk - Portugal
- European Economies At Risk - Spain
- Police, Protesters Clash in Spanish General Strike
- European Economies At Risk - Greece
- Enforcing Budgetary Discipline in the Eurozone
- Poland's Vulnerability Amid Missile Diplomacy
- Russia and Romania: The Competition over Moldova
- France: Sarkozy's Cry for Help
- China's 'Silk Road' in the Balkans
- With Elections Over, Putin Focuses on Perceptions
- Russia Re-Putined
- Russia: Putinism and the Russian Economy
- Challenges for Belarus' Political and Economic Model
- French Presidential Election Reveals Plenty of Jaded Voters
- Balkan Countries Still Committed to EU Membership
- Social Democracy and Europe's Crisis
- Europe: Surviving a Lost Decade
- Time to Build Bridges Over The Mediterranean
- Greek Unrest the Result of Suppressed Democracy
- Second Bailout May Not be Enough for Greece
- Greece and Germany in War of Words Over Austerity
- Greeks Eager to Repair Tarnished Reputation
- Germany's Role in Europe and the European Debt Crisis
- Greeks Eager to Repair Tarnished Reputation
- Will Any Part of Europe Save Itself?
- Spain: Economic Needs Spur Tensions Between Madrid and the Regions
- Europe Needs a Marshall Plan
- Cold Snap Could Put European Economies in the Deep Freeze
- Russia: Cracks in the Kremlin
- Russia's New Chechnya Problem
- Balkan Countries Dream of Oil Riches
- Europe: Drag on Global Growth
- How Europe's Crisis Could Hurt the Global Economy
- Spain: The Threat
- Russia: Putin Stymies Protesters With Subversion Strategies
- France: Socialism Bombs Out Again
- Europe's Cafe Theater
- What's New in France and Spain for 2012
- Changes Spice Up Northern Europe in 2012
- Will the Euro Survive 2012?
- The Failure of the Euro
- Italian Prime Minister Calls For Unity to Save the Eurozone
- The New Old Europe
- Brussels Agreements Increase German Role in EU
- Council of Europe: The Soft Power Twin
- Greece: Default and Exit
- Greece's Unlawful Immigrants in Dangerous Hands
- Cyprus Gas Discovery Raises Political Stakes
- Politics Return to Russia
- Russians United against United Russia
Greek Economic Crisis Highlights Real Cost of Corruption is republished via Southeast European Times.