Washington had advised the previous SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government not to clash head-on with Germany and to show a willingness for reform in the weeks and months leading up to the July 13 agreement on a third bailout between Greece and its lenders.
A secret telegram sent to Athens by Greece’s Ambassador to the US, Christos Panagopoulos, on July 16 synopsized the relations between the two countries over the previous months. The copy seen by Kathimerini suggests that Washington showed a keen interest in keeping Greece in the eurozone and had consistently provided advice on how the government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras should handle relations with the rest of the eurozone.
Washington, for instance, advised Athens to avoid verbal attacks on the German government and to try to create a broad alliance including countries like the UK, France, Italy and Austria. The US made it clear that the coalition would have to convince these countries that it was serious about implementing reforms if they were to then, in turn, offer their support.
Panagopoulos also explains in his note that Washington’s strategy was to stress the geopolitical importance of keeping Greece in the single currency and the need for the eurozone to agree a further reduction of Greek debt. The Greek ambassador suggests that the US government also encouraged the International Monetary Fund to be vocal on the issue of debt relief.
Sources also told Kathimerini that it was Washington who emphasized the geopolitical angle to the Greek issue through NATO. On June 19 NATO deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said a Greek exit would “indeed have repercussions” for the alliance. He told a security conference in Bratislava that NATO was “worried about” a Grexit. His comments came just after Greece and Russia agreed a pipeline deal.
Panagopoulos describes in his telegram that there was frequent and extensive contact between Athens and Washington, including officials from the Treasury and the State Department, during the protracted negotiations that led to the signing of the third bailout in Brussels.
The first 2-way bitcoin ATM was inaugurated in downtown Athens on Saturday at The Cube, a coworking space that houses several innovative startups. And many find that through this very ATM they can overcome Greece’s capital controls.
The 2-way (bitcoin to euro and vice versa) ATM machine was installed by Spanish startup company Bitchain. Joaquin Fenoy, the company’s 36-year-old chief technology officer (CTO), believes that installing the machine might help Greeks during the crisis.
After the implementation of capital controls, Greek citizens are able to withdraw only 60 euros per banking account. But this doesn’t apply to bitcoin.
“It is a system that cannot be controlled,” noted Bitchain CTO Joaquin Fenoy at the inauguration event.
“People are not limited, here” he added. In fact, as he was speaking, a young man was able to withdraw 120 euros from his bitcoin wallet, which is double the amount Greeks are allowed to withdraw from banks on a daily basis.
The crypto currency might be helpful especially to the young entrepreneurs who cannot fulfill payments abroad because of the recent limitations.
The bitcoin is a completely digital currency. It is not available in any physical form of coins or banknotes. It is not produced by any particular country and not controlled by any particular bank.
Production, storage, handling and all transactions with bitcoin are exclusively in electronic form. In more technical terms, the bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment system and a digital open source exchange, invented by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008.
According to Adrian Verde, who also works with Bitchain, the ATM allows people to store their own money with 0% commission fees.
“The banks are withholding the people’s own money and a bitcoin ATM machine could help in such a situation,” he said.
The event was attended by several curious Greeks who wanted to know more about the bitcoin and be one of the first people to use the machine. Two university students, Dimitris and Aris, were excited by the prospect.
However DImitris noted that such technology may need more time to grow in Greece, since people are more used to “real money” and they are often suspicious of online transactions.
But for Petros, the bitcoin has created an online community without limits and borders.
“Bitcoin ATMs are an easy way to send money abroad and make transactions online, two things that are currently not allowed in Greece due to the capital controls,” he said.
He also noted that the transactions are safe and transparent since the system allows users to see any transaction that has been completed since the bitcoin first made an appearance in 2008.
Petros also noted that the bitcoin, via the newly installed ATM in Greece, can be used in many ways to help the country during the crisis.
The digital currency could be used by international corporations that wish to send money to their Greek offices for actions in Greece, or businessmen from other countries can invest in Greek startups or other companies.
“It is a peer-to-peer system with no delays that is based on trust,” Petros said. “I believe that Greeks will be able to learn to use and trust bitcoin.”
“They learnt to use Google, why not this?” he concluded.
Goldman Sachs faces the prospect of potential legal action from Greece over the complex financial deals in 2001 that many blame for its subsequent debt crisis.
A leading adviser to debt-riven countries has offered to help Athens recover some of the vast profits made by the investment bank.
The Independent has learnt that a former Goldman banker, who has advised indebted governments on recovering losses made from complex transactions with banks, has written to the Greek government to advise that it has a chance of clawing back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it paid Goldman to secure its position in the single currency.
The development came as Greece edged towards a last-minute deal with its creditors which will keep it from crashing out of the single currency.
The deal is based on fresh economic reform proposals submitted by Athens which bear a striking similarity to the creditors’ offer rejected by the Greek people in a referendum last Sunday – sparking claims that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has effectively executed a huge U-turn in order to avoid a catastrophic “Grexit”.
Greece managed to keep within the strict Maastricht rules for eurozone membership largely because of complex financial deals created by the investment bank which critics say disguised the extent of the country’s outstanding debts.
Goldman Sachs is said to have made as much as $500m from the transactions known as “swaps”. It denies that figure but declines to say what the correct one is.
The banker who stitched it together, Oxford-educated Antigone Loudiadis, was reportedly paid up to $12m in the year of the deal.
Now Jaber George Jabbour, who formerly designed swaps at Goldman, has told the Greek government in a formal letter that it could “right historical wrongs as part of [its] plan to reduce Greece’s debt”.
Mr Jabbour successfully assisted Portugal in renegotiating complex trades naively done with London banks during the financial crisis.
His work helped trigger a parliamentary inquiry and cost many senior officials and politicians their jobs. It also triggered major compensation payments by banks to the Portuguese taxpayer.
Mr Jabbour, who now runs Ethos Capital Advisors, has also helped expose other cases including allegations against Goldman Sachs and Société Générale over their dealings with Libya relating to financial transactions that left the country’s taxpayers billions of dollars out of pocket. Both banks deny wrongdoing.
Based on publicly available information, he believes the size of the profit Goldman made on the transactions was unreasonable. Scrutiny and analysis of the documents and email exchanges could give Greece grounds to seek compensation and assess if the deals were executed for the sole purpose of concealing the country’s debts.
Greece’s membership of the euro gave it access to billions of easy credit which it was then incapable of paying back, leading to its current crisis. Lenders took its euro membership as a stamp of creditworthiness, but the true state of its economy was far less healthy.
Under Ms Loudiadis’s guidance, Goldman swapped debt issued by Greece in dollars and yen for euros which were priced at a historical exchange rate that made the debt look smaller than it actually was. The swaps reportedly made about 2 per cent of Greece’s debt disappear from its national accounts.
The size and structure of the deal enabled the bank to charge a far bigger fee than is usual in swap transactions, and Goldman persuaded Greece not to test the transaction with competitors to ensure it was getting good value for money.
ATHENS, Greece — the pivotal referendum that will decide this country’s future is just two days away, and it’s impossible to call.
If Greeks vote “Yes” to the snap vote called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras just a week ago, they’ll be accepting a bailout deal which may not even be on offer from its European creditors any more.
If they vote “No,” they’ll reject that shaky agreement, potentially forgoing support for their shattered banking system, and beginning a chain of events which could force the small country out of the euro.
Two polls Friday morning are pointing in different directions — on shows a narrow Yes victory, the other a narrow win for No.
The first, commissioned by Bloomberg and conducted by the University of Macedonia, has 43% in favour of Yes and 42.5% in favour of No.
But a much bigger gap has closed since the referendum was announced — apparently when the poll started, before banks closed, 52% backed No and just 26.5% backed Yes. That’s not the first poll that has showed this effect.
The second poll, commissioned by Ethnos (a newspaper) and the ALCO pollster shows a similarly close result, but with Yes narrowly in the lead. Yes has 44.8% of those surveyed, while No has 43.4%.
Both polls are so close that it’s impossible to give either side a definitive lead — but it looks like No has been losing support since banks were shuttered.
Almost all polling suggests that the vast majority of Greeks are keen to keep the euro as the national currency. As a result, politicians opposed to the government want to portray Sunday’s vote as a referendum on the euro for obvious reasons.
No (Oxi) posters have popped up everywhere in Athens, and apparently further afield in places like Thessaloniki too. There are fewer visible adverts for Yes (Nai), but it’s clear there’s a groundswell of support for accepting the bailout deal.
One thing which could be particularly bad is if there’s an extremely close vote — there’s a lot of paranoia among the activists on both sides at the moment, and if either lost by less than say, 5%, it would be very easy for them to construct reasons for which the vote was unfair — that is was manipulated by the media or the government.
A narrow no vote, particularly, would be an extremely thin mandate to leave the eurozone on, and could turn the social unrest we’ve seen so far into something far uglier.
Greeks woke up to shuttered banks, closed cash machines and a climate of rumors and conspiracy theories on Monday as a breakdown in talks between Athens and its creditors plunged the country deep into crisis.
After receiving no extra emergency funding for Greek lenders from the European Central Bank, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras somberly announced capital controls in a televised address on Sunday night to prevent banks from collapsing under the weight of mass withdrawals.
Greece has less than 48 hours to pay back 1.6 billion euros ($1.77 billion) of International Monetary Fund loans, and a default would set in train events that could lead to the country’s exit from the euro currency bloc.
But after Tsipras angered Greece’s international lenders by announcing a snap referendum next Sunday on the terms of a cash-for-reforms deal, hopes of a last-minute breakthrough are fading fast. Greeks reacted with a mixture of disbelief and fear.
“I can’t believe it,” said Athens resident Evgenia Gekou, 50, on her way to work. “I keep thinking we will wake up tomorrow and everything will be OK. I’m trying hard not to worry.”
European officials sent confusing signals about their next move. A spokesman for the European Commission told French radio that Brussels would not make any new proposals on Monday, appearing to contradict comments by EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. He said a new offer was forthcoming and that the two sides were “only a few centimeters” away from a deal.
European bank shares fell sharply on Monday. Top banks in Spain, France and Germany were down more than 6 percent as the risk of a spillover to banks in other peripheral euro zone countries spooked investors.
The Greek government will keep banks shut at least until after July 5, the date of the referendum, and withdrawals from automated teller machines — which are shut on Monday — will be limited to 60 euros a day when they reopen on Tuesday. The stock exchange will also stay shut.
After months of wrangling, Greece’s exasperated European partners have put the blame for the crisis squarely on Tsipras’s shoulders.
The creditors wanted Greece to cut pensions and raise taxes in ways that Tsipras has long argued would deepen one of the worst economic crises of modern times in a country where a quarter of the workforce is already unemployed.
As Tsipras announced the emergency measures late on Sunday, there were long queues outside ATMs and petrol stations as people raced to take out cash before it was too late.
“I’ve got five euros in my pocket, I thought I would try my luck here for some money. The queues in my neighborhood were too long yesterday,” said plumber Yannis Kalaizakis, 58, outside an empty cash machine in central Athens on Monday.
“I don’t know what else to say. It’s a mess.”
Newspapers splashed pictures of long lines outside cash machines on their front page. The Nafetemporiki daily headlined Monday’s edition “Dramatic hours” while the Ta Nea daily simply said: “When will the banks open”.
The conservative-leaning Eleftheros Typos newspaper accused Tsipras of announcing the referendum as a ruse to tip the country into early elections in the hopes of winning them.
“Mr Tsipras’s decision to call a referendum and a possible euro exit constitutes a premeditated crime,” it said in an editorial. “It is clear that Mr Tsipras has lost the trust of citizens. That’s obvious from the queues at ATMs and petrol stations, and it will become obvious at next Sunday’s ballot.”
As rumors flew about, dozens of pensioners queued outside at least two offices of the National Bank of Greece on Monday after hearing they could withdraw pensions from some branches. They were turned away, Reuters photographers said.
“I’ve worked all my life, only to wake up one morning to a disaster like this,” said one shop owner, who was there to collect his wife’s pension.
Despite the financial shock, parts of daily life went on as normal, with shops, pharmacies and supermarkets in the city opening and Greeks meeting to discuss their country’s fate at cafes and restaurants. Tourists gathered as usual to watch the changing of the presidential guard outside parliament.
A rally to protest against austerity measures and urge voters to say “No” in the referendum on bailout terms is expected later on Monday.
Despite the hardening of positions, officials around Europe and the United States made a frantic round of calls and organized meetings to try to salvage the situation.
U.S. President Barack Obama called German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and senior U.S. officials including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who spoke to Tsipras, urged Europe and the IMF to come up with a plan to hold the single currency together and keep Greece in the euro zone.
The German and French governments announced emergency political meetings.
“While the program is active until Tuesday, they aren’t providing the necessary liquidity for Greek banks just to blackmail and to terrorize us,” Administrative Reforms Minister George Katrougalos told Antenna television.
“If we vote a yes, they will demolish pensions, you will have to pay for medicare in public hospitals. When your kids can’t go to school you will say ‘thanks’ and they will say ‘you asked for it’.
“But if you say no you have the ability to fight for a better future.”
Eurozone finance ministers have rejected a Greek request to extend a bailout programme beyond 30 June.
A Eurogroup statement said Greece had broken off negotiations over a new bailout deal “unilaterally”.
Late on Friday, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras called a surprise referendum for 5 July over the terms of any new deal.
Greece has to pay €1.6bn (£1.1bn) to the IMF on Tuesday. Without new funds, there are fears Greece may leave the euro and its economy may collapse.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Greece would still try to secure a bailout deal that could then be put to a referendum.
“In these crucial moments, the Greek government is fighting for there to be a last minute deal by Tuesday,” he said.
The Greek parliament is due to vote later on whether to ratify the referendum.
Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said it would be up to the European Central Bank (ECB) to decide whether to continue providing emergency liquidity funding to the Greek banking system.
The ECB said it was “closely monitoring developments” and would hold a meeting in due course to discuss the situation.
“The process hasn’t ended – it will never end probably”, said Mr Dijsselbloem. “We will continue to work with Greece. Many things could happen – many scenarios are conceivable.”
But he placed the blame squarely with Greece for walking out of negotiations on Friday.
“They broke off their talks while they were still going on, while there was still time,” he said.
“The only positive caveat I see is that the Greek parliament still has to take a wise position on that, and I hope that may lead to a different political situation.”
It’s never over till it’s over. But it feels like the end is perilously close. The breakdown in talks between Greece and its creditors has to be seen as a failure.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. It is also a massive gamble on all sides, and a possible turning point in the history of the eurozone. There will still be those working feverishly behind the scenes for compromise, but in effect neither side has blinked yet.
When the Greek government thought it had made substantial concessions at the beginning of the week, the creditors said it simply wasn’t enough. And while no-one can say for certain that Greece will leave the eurozone, this is already uncharted territory.
Much will depend on the outcome of the referendum called by PM Alexis Tsipras, if it takes place on schedule. And much will also depend on the European Central Bank – and whether it believes it can still allow funds to flow, to prevent banks in Greece from collapsing.
French Finance Minister Michel Sapin stressed after the Eurogroup talks that all of its members wanted Greece to remain in the eurozone.
“This is not a Greek exit from the eurozone,” he told reporters. “The 18 countries, apart from Greece, all said clearly that Greece was in the euro and should remain in the euro whatever the difficulties of the moment.”
Mr Varoufakis told reporters that the Eurogroup’s refusal to extend the bailout could permanently damage the credibility of the group.
He said that what had been proposed to Greece “did not contain any plan for giving, instilling hope in investors, both Greek and non-Greek, in consumers, in depositors”.
Throughout the ups and downs of the recent negotiations, Greeks have by and large resisted the urge to withdraw money from their accounts, pinning their hopes on a last minute deal with the country’s creditors.
But as the deadline for Greece’s €1.6bn payment to the IMF looms, and with Mr Tsipras calling for a referendum next week, lines have begun to form outside ATMs and bank branches in Athens.
One bank has imposed withdrawal limits of €3,000 per account, and some ATMs have handwritten “empty” signs on them – although I managed to withdraw cash at two separate locations.
Some customers were given a ticket number and told to come back in a few hours. One man told me he was 170th in line.
“The game is over,” said Peter, one of those queuing. “Greece is going into uncharted waters, and the banks will be closed on Monday, I suspect.”
Anxiety is mounting in Athens. “Everybody’s really scared,” Elena, a woman in her 20s, tells me as she waits to withdraw cash. “We need to have enough money to last the week.”
Mr Varoufakis said his government had asked for an extension of “a few days, a couple of weeks”, whereas Mr Dijsselbloem said an extension of one month had been requested.
In Greece, queues have formed outside banks amid concerns that the Greek central bank might start restricting withdrawals.
Greece owes roughly €340bn, mostly to its eurozone partners. Because it can no longer borrow from the international money markets, it is dependent on the eurozone and IMF to keep its banks functioning.
Greece timeline: Key dates ahead
27 June: Eurogroup refuses Greek request to extend existing bailout
30 June: Troika bailout programme ends as Greek €1.6bn payment to IMF due
1 July: No bailout programme could mean no emergency liquidity from the ECB
5 July: Proposed Greek referendum
10 July: Treasury bills worth €2bn to be repaid
20 July: Bonds worth €3.5bn to be repaid to eurozone partners