Belfast Telegraph

Greece's 'expert' tormentors have some brass necks

By Eamonn McCann

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will have taken a greater interest than most in the eurozone crisis. He comes from Alsace, on the eastern border of France, just across the Rhine from Germany, where almost everybody of necessity speaks both French and German. Hence his curious accent.

Alsace has changed hands between France and Germany on a number of occasions as frontiers bent and buckled with the to-and-fro of conflict. The idea of a European union that will eventually blur the borders between member states will have had a particular appeal for Wenger.

His most relevant memory of his time as manager of Ligue 1 side Monaco, though, will be of the antics of billionaire Bernard Tapie, owner of Olympique Marseille, Monaco's fiercest rivals. By 1993 Marseille had notched up five-in-a-row titles. Twice they'd just pipped Monaco. Wenger, deeply suspicious of what was going on, was livid.

After the final match of 1992-93, Valenciennes manager Boro Primorac reported to the police that Marseille officials had offered bribes to three of his players if they'd throw the game and thereby hand Marseille the title. In an interview last February Wenger said that he still felt "scarred for life" by the experience.

An investigation by the French authorities revealed that Tapie and Marseille had been buying matches all along. Tapie was jailed.

Marseille were relegated for two seasons. Whistleblower Primorac was frozen out of the game. In 1994 Wenger moved to Grampus Eight in Japan, bringing Primorac with him as his assistant manager. He then brought the former Valenciennes chief to Highbury (as it ought still to be called). Primorac can be seen on match days sitting alongside Wenger in the Arsenal dugout.

In 1992 Tapie had sold his majority holding in sports equipment company Adidas in order to join the cabinet of Socialist Party President Francois Mitterand.

Fast-forward to 2007. Tapie, having deserted the Socialists, donated €1 million to Nicolas Sarkozy's successful presidential campaign. On his first day in office Sarkozy appointed Christine Lagarde as Finance Minister.

In 2008 she intervened to take a case involving Tapie - he was suing his bank for alleged mishandling of the Adidas sale - out of the hands of the courts and referred it to a panel appointed by herself. The panel awarded Tapie €403m. The decision was overturned on appeal to the courts.

In 2011 Lagarde was appointed head of the IMF following the resignation of Dominique Straus-Kahn, accused in New York of sexual assault of a hotel maid. In May 2013 Lagarde herself was brought to court and, in a closed session, questioned for a day-and-a-half about allegations that the €1m donation had been a sweetener to facilitate the appointment of the Tapie panel: she vehemently denies the allegations.

A leaked report by the chief prosecutor of the Cour de Justice de la Republique - which tries alleged wrongdoing in office - says that Lagarde took "a series of decisions systematically damaging to the interests of the State" (Sarkozy, too, has been placed under formal investigation on suspicion of trying to influence judges looking into allegations that he had previously sought to influence judges).

Then there's the boss of another of the Troika institutions, the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

He was Prime Minister of Luxemburg from 1995 to 2003, for some of this period doubling up as Finance Minister.

Over these years Luxemburg developed a reputation as a honey-pot for European tax avoiders. Juncker is now being investigated for allegedly endorsing a deal with Amazon, tax-domiciled in the Grand Duchy, which required the company to pay tax close to zero on revenues measured in hundreds of millions.

Failure to run an efficient tax collection system is one of the central charges being made by Juncker and the rest of the Troika against the Government in Athens.

The third top Troika representative is the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi.

He was chief of the Italian Central Bank between 2006 and 2009, when the world's oldest bank, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, was bailed out by the Italian taxpayer to the tune of €1.5bn, one of a number of deals totalling €4bn, which were not reported to the regulator.

A subsequent Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti, has described suggestions that Draghi didn't know about these transactions as "stupefying".

These are the people shouting loudest about the dodgy way Syriza has handled the Greek economy and, particularly, about the way it has made such a disastrous mess of the public finances.

A period of silence from these people on economic and financial matters would surely be widely appreciated - not only by, I suspect, the urbane and elegant greatest manager in the history of English football.

Belfast Telegraph

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