February 26, 2018 / 4:59 PM / a year ago

Wealthy Greek minister quits in uproar over rent subsidy

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek junior minister resigned on Monday after a wave of outrage triggered by reports that she had claimed a rent allowance despite extensive personal wealth.

Rania Antonopoulou, who had been deputy labour minister in charge of the unemployment portfolio since 2015, was entitled to the subsidy, intended to help members of government with rent if Athens is not their home.

But a Sunday newspaper report that she was claiming it, and for an apartment in a smart neighbourhood, touched a nerve in a country where a third of the population live in poverty and unemployment is higher than anywhere in the euro zone. The opposition called for her to step down.

Newspapers have reported that, in their public source-of-wealth declaration, Antonopoulou and her husband, Economy Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou, said they received 450,000 euros (£396,680) in income in 2015, and owned close to half a million euros in bank deposits as well as properties in Greece and abroad.

“The richest couple in government ... have pushed the limits,” the Proto Thema newspaper wrote on its front page on Sunday.

Other newspapers reported that the apartment in question was in a wealthy neighbourhood of Athens.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras conveyed to Antonopoulou “that he did not consider it proper to take advantage of this provision”, the government’s spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, told Greek radio on Monday.

A government official said Tsipras had decided to scrap the benefit for non-parliamentary members of government.

Antonopoulou acknowledged that she had applied for and received 23,000 euros for rent over two years up to August 2017 and offered to return the money, but denied wrongdoing, saying she had acted in accordance with the law.

“It has never been my intention to provoke the public’s sense of justice nor to offend the Greek people,” she said in a statement.

“During this period of crisis, where thousands of people are agonising about their homes, their income, their loans, I realise that every benefit, even legitimate, causes outrage.

“I am also aware that my financial situation ... has reinforced people’s indignation.”

Antonopoulou, an economist, had taken a leave of absence from her role as director of the Gender Equality and the Economy programme at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, New York, according to the think tank’s website.

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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