March 15, 2018 / 12:23 PM / 9 months ago

Greece can do more to weed out corruption, watchdog agency says

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece should tighten the rules of conduct for its legislators and judiciary to prevent corruption, a senior official in the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption agency said in an interview.

Executive secretary of the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) Gianluca Esposito speaks during an interview with Reuters in Athens, Greece, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Graft has long been considered a cause of economic malaise in Greece, which has required three international bailouts since 2010 in return for reforms. The bailouts imposed deep austerity and hardship on the country’s 11 million people.

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, a 47-nation human rights body that has no legislative powers, has praised Greece for adopting a code of conduct for its lawmakers and for improving their declarations of assets.

But Athens needed to do more to provide transparency in political-party financing and interaction with lobbyists, said Gianluca Esposito, executive secretary of the council’s Group of States against Corruption, known as GRECO.

He also cited a need for a clearer distinction between the executive and the judiciary and for easing bottlenecks in the justice system.

“I think corruption has had an impact, has contributed to getting where we are and into a situation where the economy was struggling,” Esposito said, referring to the economic crisis.

“That was a long time ago. Things have now certainly improved. The key is not to stop in the middle, but to continue on the reform process.”

Two reports issued by GRECO this month noted Greece had introduced asset declarations for lawmakers and adopted a code of conduct. But it was concerned about an apparent regression in allowing some anonymity in donating to political parties.

It also expressed misgivings over a lack of clear criteria in lifting parliamentary immunity in cases to facilitate inquiries. In Greece’s case, refusal to lift parliamentary immunity significantly outweighed the number of requests approved.

“There are no clear criteria,” Esposito said. “It’s important for members of parliament to exercise their work without the fear of political prosecution.

“... However, immunity doesn’t mean impunity. Immunity doesn’t shield a person from corruption and in most countries there are very transparent criteria about how this immunity is lifted.”

Among 180 countries or territories around the world, Greece ranks 59th, with a score of 48 on the public perception of corruption out of 100, according to a 2017 report by advocacy body Transparency International. That put it behind its EU peers Italy and Spain and level with Romania and Jordan.

“I don’t rank countries,” Esposito said. Corruption existed in every country in one manifestation or another, which is why prevention was needed to prevent it taking hold, he said.

“It is like a virus ... When it becomes the norm, nothing works anymore. Democracy doesn’t work anymore. The economy doesn’t work anymore, and the rule of law simply doesn’t exist.”

Reporting By Michele Kambas, editing by Larry King

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