Greece uncovers tourism scam, looks for unaccounted millions

ATHENS Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:27am GMT

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Three Greeks were arrested on suspicion of trying to defraud the national tourism board, police said on Saturday, and the finance ministry is investigating a suspected 12-million-euro hole in the state agency's books.

Tourism is one of cash-strapped Greece's few remaining money-spinners and the EOT tourism board is in charge of funding several promotion campaigns and subsidy programmes for the industry.

A police statement said a former EOT adviser colluded with at least two accomplices to cash in a forged cheque of 147,000 euros (120,200 pounds) made out to a hotel on the Aegean island of Syros. The three, arrested earlier this week, were put in pre-trial detention after appearing before a prosecutor on Friday.

"They are charged with forming and participating in a criminal organisation," the statement said.

The tourism ministry said it was investigating why an EOT chequebook was handled by the 39-year old adviser, who was not a career EOT official but rather an aide to the board's outgoing secretary general, who resigned last week.

Separately, the finance ministry appointed on Thursday a team to investigate what the EOT's new secretary general has called "accounting irregularities" of 12 million euros in the EOT's books.

Cronyism, political meddling and lack of accountability are central causes for the endemic corruption that has bedevilled Greece, leading to fiscal profligacy, financial crisis and an international bailout in 2010.

Greece ranked last among the 27 European Union countries in a global corruption index compiled by anti-graft group Transparency International earlier this year.

The country's governing coalition, which took power in June, has pledged to crack down on corruption, which infuriates citizens who have seen their wages cut and taxes increased as part of its 240-billion euro bailout.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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