Home » Blog » Magical ponies and Greek debt: How Greeks around the world were conned into false hope

Magical ponies and Greek debt: How Greeks around the world were conned into false hope

Friday, October 5, 2012  | 

If gullibility could be bottled and sold, Greece could make billions off of its new export.

To hear some Greeks say it, a white knight from Canada has arrived to save Greece from her demise, carrying upwards of $600 billion on his back to liberate a debt-enslaved people.

Little is known about that purported white knight, Mr. Artemios Sorras. His is a name that’s never been heard of in the Greek diaspora. But last month, Mr. Sorras held a press conference in a New York hotel and promised to single-handedly end Greece’s debt.

He's got the golden ticket!? - image originally from GreekNewsOnline.com

The pitch was laughable on its face: According to Mr. Emmanuel Lambrakis, chairman of the new group End National Debt (END) (I’d link to the group’s website but they don’t have one), Mr. Sorras has deposited shares worth $600 billion in Canadian banks and is willing to hand them over as a loan to Greece at bargain-basement interest rates if certain preconditions are met (among them the calling of new parliamentary elections and the drafting of a new constitution). Oh, and he’s offered to toss $50 billion to Cyprus too. Just for good measure.

Since then, the END campaign has percolated up from the internet to traditional media where Greek reporters breathlessly claim that this mysterious member of the Greek diaspora will save Greece.

What’s transpired both here in North America and in Greece has been nothing short of absolutely embarrassing for Hellenes around the globe. The world already defames Greeks as lazy and corrupt. Now we can expect them to add the charge of gullible.

The coverage of END has been long on drama and short on facts. To hear some reporters, it’s the Greek government that’s standing in the way between Greeks and a wipeout of sovereign debt. The Greek government can be said to be many things – inefficient, over its head, obsessed with personalities – but the conspiracy theory that the government is collaborating to keep Greeks enslaved to the Troika is just that – pure, wild-eyed conspiracy.

Let’s review the facts that have seen little light in the coverage of END’s campaign. Mr. Sorras claims to have “deposited” bonds worth $600 billion dollars in an unknown Canadian bank account. If Mr. Sorras truly had the financial wherewithal to conduct that deposit, that would make him one of the wealthiest men in the entirety of human history.

Now, Mr. Sorras must be the most reclusive billionaire out there, since his name isn’t even on Forbes wealthiest list.

So many who have reported on this story (especially those reporting on it in Greece) barely batted an eye when told that a single, mysterious multi-billionaire would pay off Greece’s debt.  The claim that a single man can do so is patently ludicrous. After all, Bill Gates is worth only $61 billion. Warren Buffet is worth $44 billion. Even if were to take the world’s top 10 billionaires and added up their net worth, that would amount to just $395 billion, an amount that represents a paltry 56% of what the mysterious Mr. Sorras has purportedly ponied up to pay off Greece’s debt.  (For the record, it would take the combined fortunes of the world’s top 15 billionaires to match Mr. Sorras’s alleged gift).

As the story evolves, more has come to light about just how Mr. Sorras calculates his wealth. According to some sources, Mr. Sorras is apparently relying on bonds that are almost a hundred years old issued by the long-defunct Banque D’Orient, a bank which was acquired by the National Bank of Greece in 1932.  Those bonds purportedly were backed by French gold before the acquisition, so they’re guaranteed by the Bank of France. The tall tale of the Sorras family trying to bail out Greece has been circulating since at least last year (see video here).

By the way, you can buy your very own authentic Banque D’Orient note on ebay for $350. What a steal!

The "cavalry" at a press conference in New York.

So on the one hand, there’s the claim that this previously undisclosed pot at the end of the rainbow comes from old Banque D’Orient bonds. On the other hand, in another interview, Mr. Lambrakis stated that some of the bonds are bonds of the United States.  In fact, one of the documents “proving” the deposit (above) demonstrates that $600 billion in U.S. treasuries have been pledged.

Whichever pot of fantasy you wish to dip into – whether it’s dusty Banque D’Orient bonds or shiny American ones – those bonds would make the Sorras family the richest family on the entire earth.

Now, let’s travel to an imaginary world where these bonds are both real and worth what END alleges they are worth. How could END possibly maintain with a straight face that they could even cash them in?

The total reserve liquidity of the European Central Bank is 526 billion euros. The National Bank of Greece, as we all know, is in dire straights and the Banque de France certainly doesn’t enough cash or gold in its coffers to pay out.  Why are so many of the journalists interviewing the END leaders giving Mr. Sorras a pass on detailing how he expects to fulfill their loan promises?

Makis Triantafilopouloshas been one of the loudest voices in pushing the “Sorras savior” story (he’s been peddling the idea of a Banque D’Orient bailout since 2011).  Far too many outlets in Greece — both on and offline — have simply regurgitated END’s press releases without the massive amount of skepticism and fact-checking their storybook press release deserves.

On some sites, the scrutiny of END has (thankfully) been far more vigorous. Both keeptalkinggreece  and greeknewsonline have injected some much-needed rationality and reality into the discussion. Another website reported on documents that appear to show Mr. Sorras offering up $5 billion to “free Jefferson County Alabama from bankruptcy bondage.”  That offer was presented by Mr. Sorras through Diamond + Diamond Merchant Group, a group that has previously been marked as a “questionable bank.”

Defenders of END claim that the group’s documents are legitimate because they’ve received the seal of approval from Theodore Kariotis, a Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland. Mr. Karyotis is a well-known economist in the Greek community. He penned a letter this week distancing himself from END (rough translation):

With the calculations I got to the conclusion that the value of the stock today reached the absurd and inconceivable amount of 675 billion euros. Two days later Lambrakis visited me late at night in a friendly house in New York and asked me to sign this valuation, which I did. I also note that it has never expressed an opinion to share my show with respect to the authenticity or if it had been cleared of that share.

As far as other “seals of approval,” the group points to signature notarizations as proof that they’re not a fraud. Of course, a notarization that a signature is authentic proves nothing with respect to the claims alleged in the signed document itself.  You would think with so many lawyers in their campaign, END would appreciate the difference between a simple signature notarization versus an actual acknowledgement and approval of the group’s wild claims.

The Bank of Montreal is reportedly looking into the matter to determine if END or any of its players acted illegally, while government officials in Greece are also looking into the legality of their conduct.

The Greek Finance Ministry has rightly dismissed this PR stunt as a “joke.” That it is, but it’s also incredibly sad.

These false hope peddlers who have trotted into the international debate on Greece’s debt do  nothing to advance a real solution for Greece’s crisis. Rather, they represent the same infuriating incompetence and egoism they claim to rail against. With their charlatan campaign, they denigrate the very real efforts by others around the world to address Greece’s crisis.

When Greece’s Foreign Minister Avramopoulos visited the United States last month, he described that crisis as a war. It was a battle, he said, but instead of building scrashing down and people dying it’s hope that’s being crushed and it’s dreams that are falling lifeless to the ground. And that is where the true cruelty of the END campaign comes in. Instead of stretching out a tangible hand of help for suffering Greeks to grab on to, they offer the ether of conspiracy and false promise.

Greece and her people deserve far better.

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