March 10, 2013 10:20 pm

Greek privatisation agency head resigns

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The Greek government was urgently seeking a new executive chairman for the country’s privatisation agency on Sunday after the incumbent was indicted on criminal charges of breach of faith in his previous public sector post.

Takis Athanasopoulos, appointed last year to implement an ambitious €50bn programme of disposals as agreed with international creditors, resigned on Saturday after a prosecutor leaked news of the charges to Greek media. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment.

Mr Athanasopoulos denied the charges, saying he was standing down as executive chairman of Taiped, the privatisation agency, because he “did not want the case to have an impact on the privatisation programme”.

However, the resignation has prompted concern that three large sales of state-owned companies due to be agreed next month could be delayed, derailing Greek efforts to achieve this year’s target of €2.6bn in privatisation revenues.

Athens officials were desperately canvassing prospective candidates with the aim of appointing a new chairman by Monday, according to people connected with the search.

“The best choice would be a Greek investment banker working abroad with a record of dealmaking,” said one person with knowledge of the process.

The EU and International Monetary Fund warned after last year’s privatisation targets were missed that foreign managers would take over the agency if there were further delays.

Mr Athanasopoulos is accused of signing off on a €220m contract to build a natural gas-fired power plant on the island of Evvia while serving as chief executive of PPC, the state power utility, even though he knew that deadlines agreed to connect it with the national grid could not be met. The other 10 members of PPC’s board face similar charges.

Greece is committed to selecting preferred bidders next month in three flagship deals expected to raise about €2.6bn, covering this year’s target for privatisation revenues. All three sales were due to be agreed in the first quarter, under the terms of Greece’s latest bailout by the EU and IMF.

Gazprom and Sintez, another Russian group, are frontrunners to acquire the state gas utility Depa and its subsidiary Desfa, the gas network operator.

Seven bidders, among them Fosun International, a Chinese conglomerate, and private equity groups BC Partners and TPG Capital, are in the running to buy the Greek state’s 33 per cent stake in Opap, a monopoly gaming operator.

The charges against Mr Athanassopoulos and his former colleagues came as the Greek judiciary have separately stepped up investigations of other politicians and public sector officials accused of corruption.

Two former politicians convicted on corruption charges received prison sentences last week, while three ex-cabinet ministers were sent for trial for allegedly falsifying income statements while they were in office.

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