Greek ex-minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos imprisoned for eight years for tax fraud

Source: guardian.co.uk

Socialist party politician who almost became prime minister in 1990s becomes latest target of crackdown on corrupt politicians

Akis Tsohatzopoulos, ex-defence minister and leading Pasok politician, is taken to court in Athens

Akis Tsohatzopoulos, former defence minister and Pasok politician, is taken to court in Athens. He is the highest-profile politician to be jailed in decades. Photograph: EPA

A Greek court has sentenced a former defence minister to eight years in prison for failing to disclose the source of lavish wealth that made him a symbol of the corruption that has plagued the country.

Once a powerful Socialist politician who almost became prime minister in the 1990s, Akis Tsohatzopoulos has been in jail pending trial since April last year as prosecutors investigated allegations of fraudulently acquired wealth.

In the highest-profile conviction of a politician in decades, the Athens appeal court ruled on Monday that his income statements between 2006 and 2009 were false and he had failed to declare a neo-classical mansion at the foot of the ancient Acropolis when he bought it in 2009.

Greek politicians are required under law to declare the origin of their wealth.

Tsohatzopoulos told reporters shortly before he was sent back to prison that he would appeal against the sentence. “The truth was covered up and this is a legal failure. It is an unacceptable decision,” he said.

During the trial, details emerged of an opulent lifestyle that confirmed popular impressions of a self-serving elite that used public office for personal enrichment.

Soaring unemployment and painful austerity measures have deepened popular anger against the generation of politicians who led Greece into a debt crisis in 2009.

The government is trying to appease some of that anger by stepping up efforts to crack down on high-level tax evasion and fraud.

On Thursday, a former mayor of the country’s second city, Thessaloniki, was jailed for life for embezzling about €20m (£17m) in the first big corruption trial since the crisis erupted.

Tsohatzopoulos faces a further trial on charges of money laundering and using offshore companies to buy the luxurious mansion in Athens.

In addition to the prison term, he was also fined €520,000 and the mansion will be confiscated.

Tsohatzopoulos nearly became prime minister in 1996 but was narrowly defeated in an internal party vote to become chairman of the then-ruling Socialist Pasok party, now a junior partner in the ruling coalition under the prime minister, Antonis Samaras.

He last served as minister in 2004 and quit politics in 2009. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in a series of affairs investigated by prosecutors, including the use of offshore companies to buy the mansion and the purchase of German submarines by Greece.

Qatari emir buys six Greek islands for a song

Source: guardian.co.uk

Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani pays €8.5m on Ionian retreats for family with seller happy to strike deal after 18 months of red tape

island of Oxia

The Greek island of Oxia, was the Qatari emir’s first purchase, which cost €5m.

The suitor is one of the world’s wealthiest men; the location happens to be the eurozone’s poorest country. But in an unlikely coming together of economic circumstances, the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has opted to splash out €8.5m (£7.35m) on six idyllic isles in the Ionian sea.

Closure of the deal – the latest in a global shopping spree that has seen the sheikh’s property portfolio spread from London to Beijing – has been met with glee in Greece, the west’s most bankrupt state, and Doha, where the royal household experienced 18 months of excruciating drama to take possession of the outcrops.

“Greece is that kind of place,” said Ioannis Kassianos, Ithaca’s straight-talking Greek-American mayor. “Even when you buy an island, even if you are the emir of Qatar, it takes a year and a half for all the paperwork to go through.”

The isles, known as the Echinades, caught the oil-rich monarch’s fancy when he moored his super-yacht in the turquoise waters off Ithaca, took in the view and liked what he saw. That was four summers ago.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani

Qatar’s Emir and his wife. Photograph: Yves Herman/ReutersWhen the royal eventually got off the yacht, he inquired about the pine-covered chain as he strolled about Ithaca in sandals and shorts. “They have a fund with a couple of hundred million in it,” enthused Kassianos, a former US economics professor who assumed the mayorship of Homer’s fabled isle three years ago. “And as far as I know they want to buy all 18 of the islands, the whole lot.”The purchase, the biggest private investment in Greece, appears to have been a windfall for the emir, who drove a hard bargain in a market where investors are few and far between. The first island, Oxia, initially came with a price tag of €7m before its Greek-Australian owners agreed to let it go for just under €5m. Last week, Denis Grivas, whose family has owned the title deeds to the other five almost since the foundation of modern Greece, also settled on a price.

“The islands have been in my family for over 150 years but we are not rich enough to be able to keep such valuable properties any longer,” he said, ruing the soaring taxes the crisis-hit Greek state has slapped on real estate. “We are very, very happy to see them go. They have been on the market for nearly 40 years.”

With their pristine beaches, ancient olive orchards and natural coves, the uninhabited isles are “an ideal opportunity for a solid business investment with unlimited possibilities”, says the high-end “private island online” site, describing the properties as Mediterranean pearls. “The potential for development is very big … from developing tourist-style Club Meds or hotel facilities, to villas to sell or rent.”

But the Gulf royal does not appear in any mood to create tourist resorts on the retreats. Instead, said Kassianos, his aim is to build palaces for the exclusive pleasure of his 24 children and three wives. The architects have already moved in, drawing up plans to create a private idyll, although he has run into trouble with Greek law.

“There is a stupid law because in Greece we do everything upside down,” lamented Kassianos. “That law says that whatever the size of your land, your home can be no bigger than 250 sq m. The emir has reacted to this saying his WC is 250 sq m and his kitchen alone has to be 1,000 sq m, because otherwise how is he going to feed all his guests?”

To appease the locals, the Qatari, who is also being heavily courted by the government to invest in Greece, has promised to come bearing gifts. “His people said ‘what present can we give you?’ and I said the island needs water desperately,” said Kassianos. “A study to lay a pipeline from the mainland is already under way. That’s not bad when we’ve been trying to get a new port here for the past 40 years.”

The emir plans to moor his yacht off his new property this summer. Locals on Ithaca are getting ready. An honorary citizenship beckons along with a feast fit for a very modern Homeric hero.

“The next time he comes we hope to get him and his family off his yacht and into our restaurants,” said Ithaca’s mayor.

Emir’s Grecian passion

This is not the first time the 56-year-old emir of Qatar has shown interest in Greece. Three years ago, when the country’s economic crisis erupted, the Gulf kingdom pledged to invest as much as €5bn in real estate, tourism, transport and infrastructure, including habours and airports. But perennial delays and the perils of Greece’s Byzantine bureaucracy were such that Qatar pulled out of the projects.

Last month, following a visit to Doha by the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, interest was rekindled when Qatar signed up to take part in an international tender to develop Athens’ former international airport at Elliniko, one of the most sort after slices of real estate in Europe. The Gulf state has also shown interest in purchasing the famous beachfront Astir Palace hotel, once a stomping ground for celebrities outside the capital.

The emir may be rich but he is business savvy. He had wanted to buy the Ionian isle of Skorpios, where Jackie Kennedy married Aris Onassis. The deal fell through when the late shipowner’s granddaughter, Athina Onassis, refused to come down in price. She is selling for €200m.

Golden Dawn to Open Greek-Only Nursery School

Source: ibtimes.co.uk
Golden Dawn to Open Greek-Only Nursery School

Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has announced it will open a nursery school to recruit toddlers to the party, according to local reports.

The far-right group’s members Ilias Panogiotaros and Ilias Lagos launched the school in Crete after attacking the Greek left for what they claimed was teaching children “a warped version of the country’s history”.

The project follows a stunt in which a group of youngsters aged between six and 10 were given an indoctrination session in Greek gods and history in the party’s offices. Golden Dawn called it the start of a “national awakening”.

Meanwhile, Golden Dawn MP and spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris is due to stand trial in connection with the mugging of a student in 2007.

His fellow MPs lifted his parliamentary immunity to allow him to stand trial for assault. Kasidiaris is accused of one of five members of a gang who beat and stabbed the student and stealing his identity card.

A witness claims they were driven away in Kasidiaris’s car.

More than 20 children took part in Greek history lessons at the party’s offices in Artemida, eastern Attica. They were shown educational videos, taught “Greek ideals” and told about the virtues of the ancient Greek gods, Christianity and the Greek Orthodox church.

 

The TV show that makes the Bible sexy

Source: News

The Bible

Diogo Morgado as Jesus Christ in the new series, The Bible. Picture: The History Channel

 

IT’S A five-part mini-series with a huge budget that really promises to break the mould. And celebrities are falling over themselves to plug it on Twitter.

Introducing, The Bible: Ten hours of dramatic TV re-enactments of history’s most famous book. The Bible is the brainchild of reality TV czar Mark Burnett and his actress-wife Roma Downey.

It has a huge budget, so expect polish and high drama in the mould of historical epics like Game of Thrones. There will be violence. There will be deception. There will be fire. But don’t expect the sexier elements of a Game of Thrones, what with the Sean Bean beheadings and the sex between siblings and such.

The Bible screens in America on the History Channel and has generated a whirlwind of publicity, thanks in large part to Burnett’s reputation, but also on the back of huge celebrity backing.

We’ll get to the celebrity-Twitter-PR-offensive in a moment, but first, a few fun facts:

  • The budget is “under $22 million”. For a TV series, that’s extraordinary. Expect blockbuster quality, because at $2.2 million for each viewing hour, it’s certainly big-budget.
  • There are no big names on the cast. Diogo Morgado plays Jesus Christ. He’s Portuguese;
  • There series was shot mostly in Morocco. So, lots of sand;
  • Burnett and Downey went to great lengths to ensure the series isn’t sensationalised. Academics and clergymen were consulted to check each script;
  • The Bible was inspired by The Ten Commandments, which Burnett and Downey watched recently.

The choice to put the series on the History Channel is a curious one. Series like this tend to gravitate towards the likes of HBO, Showtime and AMC.

The Huffington Post‘s Mark Joseph suggests in his preview piece that this decision owes in large part to the show’s intentions: an honest historical portrayal that comes with less of the “artist flair” scene in The Passion of the Christ.

“There is a possibility that The Bible will be met by a collective national yawn. That would be a shame,” Joseph writes.

It’s not likely the show will be ignored, though, with Burnett and Downey leveraging the huge social media followings of mega-celebs to reach millions of potential viewers.

Stars such as Glee’s Jane Lynch, Maroon Five frontman Adam Levine, rapper P Diddy, pop diva Christina Aguilera and Fergie – not the popstar but the former Duchess of York – are openly endorsing the series on Twitter.

The Tweets all look somewhat pre-packaged and ghost-written, and mostly look identical. For example, this, from Levine: “This Sunday, tune in to @History at 8/7c for the premiere of @bibleseries – produced by my friends @MarkBurnettTV & @RealRomaDowney!”

It’s a curious mix of Hollywood’s secularity and the pro-Christian mindset that dominates most of America.

A synopsis of The Bible offered on the series’ homepage reads: “An epic 10-part miniseries retelling stories from the Scriptures for a whole new generation.”

“Breathtaking in scope and scale, The Bible features powerful performances, exotic locales and dazzling visual effects that breathe spectacular life into the dramatic tales of faith and courage from Genesis through Revelation. This historic television event is sure to entertain and inspire the whole family.”

A spokesperson at the Australian History Channel was not aware of the show or whether it would reach our shores.

Australian universities improve world standing

Source: News

University table

AUSTRALIAN universities have improved their international standing in the past year and now enjoy the third highest ranked reputation in the world.

The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, to be released today, found Australian now lags only behind the US and UK, with six of our universities ranked in the Top 100.

In the past year, Australian universities outperformed the Netherlands, Japan and Germany, with two new entrants on the list – Monash University in Victoria, and the University of NSW – joining the four existing place holders.

The University of Melbourne improved its rank from 43 to 39 and Australian National University from 44 to 42. Sydney University rose one place to 49, and University of Queensland remained in the 80th percentile.

Times Higher Education editor Phil Baty said the reputation rankings have been held since 2011 and Australia has improved its standing at each survey.

The results are based on a global opinion poll and take into account more than 16,000 responses from senior published academics in 150 countries.

“Australia is a country very much on the way up in terms of worldwide academic prestige,” Mr Baty said in a statement.

“In many ways these results show that Australia’s image among scholars around the world is catching up with the reality: until now it has tended to perform less well in the reputation rankings compared with the overall, objective World University Rankings.

“These results show how well poised Australia is to make the most of its geographical advantages: while it has strong links with the best universities in the West, it has also made the most of East Asia’s booming higher education scene. If it continues to exploit these opportunities, Australia could be a serious beneficiary of the Asian century, which is great news for its economy and competitiveness.”

Monash University president Ed Byrne said in a statement: “Australia is ideally situation between the rising academic powerhouses of Asia and established centres in the old Westticipate a bright future.”

UNSW Vice Chancellor, Professor Fred Hilmer, put the institution’s first-time inclusion down to a “very strong improvement path”.

“When you look at the quality of the student intake, it’s gone up every year. It’s harder and harder to get in and if you look at research in particular, we are winning increasingly competitive grants,” Professor Hilmer said.

Universities in the US and UK still hold the bulk of the top 100 positions, (43 in the US and nine in the UK) with an elite group of six “super-brands” including Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, holding the top positions since the rankings’ inception.

The highest ranking university outside of the US and UK is the University of Tokyo at 9th, while India and New Zealand are among the countries with no entrants on the Top 100 list. China’s two most prestigious universities, Tsinghua University and Peking University, both dropped slightly in the rankings, but they remain in the Top 50.