From Bad to Worse for the IMF

By Delusional Economics, who is horrified at the state of economic commentary in Australia and is determined to cleanse the daily flow of vested interests propaganda to produce a balanced counterpoint. Cross posted from MacroBusiness.

For some time now I have been pointing out poor economic policy implementations within the European economy and how those policies are likely to effect the real economies of European nations. As I re-stated on Monday, my major concern with the current thinking from European economic leaders is their misguided belief that implementing austerity before credit write-downs/offs is a credible policy for a highly indebted, non-export competitive nation with a non-deflatable currency.

As I have explained many times before, this policy will fail because the deflationary effects of austerity will mean that the economy no longer has the ability to services its existing debts as it is not receiving compensation for that deflation via its export sector due to the non-responsive currency.

So, as I have been saying, all that will happen with the continued implementation of these policies is failing periphery economies which will require constant bailouts. Greece continues to demonstrate this outcome:

The International Monetary Fund sees the Greek economy deeper in recession in 2011 than the government expects and a wider-than-forecast budget shortfall, adding that the country has still a lot of work to do on reforms.

In a country review, the IMF said Tuesday the Greek economy is forecast to contract by up to 6% in 2011, versus Greece’s official estimate for negative economic output of 5.5%, ahead of a downturn in 2012 in the region of 2.75% to 3%. In its fourth year of recession, Greece has already revised lower its growth figure to 5.5% of output for 2011 from a forecast of negative 3.8% earlier in the year.

“The economy is trending notably lower than what was expected. Investor sentiments have not improved as hoped, given the unexpected turmoil in other countries in the euro area periphery, uncertainties among investors about the framework for a comprehensive policy response to the crisis, and also uncertainties about private sector involvement in reducing Greece’s debt,” it said.

“However, the most important factor has been the slowing pace of structural reforms this year.”

Among the changes the IMF said Greece needs to adopt in order to return to a growth path are shutting down inefficient state entities, reducing the large public-sector work force, cutting public wage and pension levels and stronger budget control.

“Greece is still well away from the critical mass of reforms needed to transform the investment climate.”

With the recession weighing on tax revenues and boosting spending on social welfare, the budget deficit this year is seen at about 9% of GDP, versus a recently revised government forecast of 8.5%.

So austerity is causing unemployment, which in turn requires the government to spend more on welfare, and therefore the government spending continues to rise which in turn means the “pace of structural reforms is slowing”. The fact that Greece is inside the Eurozone means there is no currency devaluation effect as the economy weakens which means that the only compensating factor for austerity is wages and employment. In other words, the nation will not be competitive again until the entire country takes a large pay cut, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t also expected to continue to pay the debts they accumulated while receiving far higher wages.

Quite simply the policy is failing in every way. The nation isn’t becoming more competitive, every single macroeconomic metric is going in the wrong direction and on top of that there is simply no way creditors are going to get paid. The most worrying thing is that instead of recognising, at least publicly, that the policy is failing the Troika continues to enact ever harsher austerity under the promise that “if we just do a bit more it will all get better”. The fact is it will not, because it can’t without significant debt reductions far beyond what the currently stalling PSI+ plan involves. (See more on the PSI+ here).

What concerns me now is that the IMF appears to be becoming increasing desperate to prove themselves right even in the face of obvious failure. In a separate article Poul Thomsen, the IMF mission chief in Greece was quoted as saying:

I think one of the things we have seen in 2011 is that we have reached the limit of what can be achieved through increasing taxes,” Poul Thomsen, the IMF mission chief in Greece, told reporters in a conference call.

Greece’s austerity program “has relied, in our view, too much on taxes and I think one of the things we have seen in 2011 is that we have reached the limit of what can be achieved through increasing taxes,” Thomsen said. “Any further measures, if needed, should be on the expenditure side.”

So the current policy has failed to produce the result that it was supposed to under the IMF’s ideology, as I said they would, because they didn’t begin the plan by writing down most of the existing debt and their other assumptions were completely misguided. As even the most junior project manager would tell you, the failure to make steps towards realising your original benefits is a sure determinate that your project is failing and should be halted pending a review to determine if its worth proceeding. But instead of using some basic project governance, the IMF continues to plough on in the opposite direction in what now appears to be a plan to start cutting welfare and services to the same people that the original failings forced into unemployment.

Europe continues to have everything back-to-front to the detriment of everyone involved. The banking system reforms are exactly the same.

As a macro-prudential regulator, the correct time to implement tighter guide lines on capital ratios is when the economy is strong and the banks are able to secure additional capital to support their risk-weighted assets without causing systemic risk. This should have been happening during the boom years when it was obvious that capital flows into countries like Spain and Ireland were leading to credit bubbles in the private sector that had a risk of strong and sudden reversal. But alas, no one did anything then. However, now that the entire European economy is reeling from the after effects of such events and the entire banking system is on the verge of collapse, the EU expects the banks to recapitalise to meet Basel III requirements. We have already seen evidence that this is pushing risk into east European economies as banks lessen their non-core exposure and repatriate capital back to home base. We are now seeing this move to the next level with banks selling off profitable parts of their asset base:

European banks, under pressure from regulators to bolster capital, are selling some of their fastest-growing businesses to competitors from outside the region — at the expense of future profit and economic growth.

Spain’s Banco Santander SA (SAN), Belgium’s KBC Groep NV (KBC)and Germany’s Deutsche Bank AG are accelerating plans to exit profitable operations outside their home markets. Santander, which said in October it needs to plug a 5.2 billion-euro ($6.9 billion) capital gap, sold its Colombian unit last week to Chile’s Corpbanca for $1.16 billion. Deutsche Bank is weighing options including a sale of most of its asset-management unit, while KBC may dispose of businesses in Poland.

Such sales risk hurting long-term profit, just as Europe enters recession, investors say. It’s the unintended consequence of the decision by European regulators to make banks increase core capital to 9 percent by June instead of 2019. Unwilling to raise equity because their share prices are too low, lenders are selling profitable assets because they’re struggling to find buyers willing to pay enough for their troubled loans to avoid a loss that would erode capital. Investors say the sales risk leaving banks focused on a stagnant economy and deprive them of economic growth from outside the region.

The mismanagement of European economies continues to stun me. No wonder the ECB is offering long term repos on the European bank’s star wars figure collections, what choice have they got?

On a positive, at least the suicide pact appears to be stumbling.

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      1. jake chase

        Unfortunately, this is not funny, even for those who think they are fincially secure. For example, suppose one has an embarrassingly large balance at a major and heretofore well managed brokerage firm. This Investor is no idiot. He holds exclusively blue chip equities and treasury bills. He is not on margin. One day he opens his Firm’s latest 10K Report, in which he reads the following buried in the notes to financial statements:

        “Resale and repurchase agreements: [Firm] enters into collateralized resale agreements principally with other broker-dealers, which could result in losses in the event the counterparty fails to purchase the securities held as collateral for the cash advanced and the fair value of the securities declines. To mitigate this risk, [Firm] requires that the counterparty deliver securities to a custodian, to be held as collateral, with a fair value in excess of the resale price. [Firm] also sets standards for the credit quality of the counterparty, monitors the fair value of the underlying securities as compared to the related receivable, including accrued interest, and requires additional collateral where deemed appropriate. At December 31, 2010 and 2009, the fair value of collateral received in connection with resale agreements that are available to be repledged or sold was $13.0 billion and $8.5 billion, respectively. [Firm] utilizes the collateral provided under repurchase agreements to meet obligations under broker-dealer client protection rules, which place limitations on its ability to access such segregated securities. For [Firm] to repledge or sell this collateral, it would be required to deposit cash and/or securities of an equal amount into its segregated reserve bank accounts in order to meet its segregated cash and investment requirement.”

        Thirteen billion? This firm’s equity capital is about $6 billion! Investor does not understand what this means, particularly the words “[Firm] uses the collateral provided under repurchase agreements to meet obligations under broker-dealer client protection rules”. Does this mean that repo collateral may be the only thing standing behind broker’s statutory obligation to segregate and safeguard fully paid customer securities? Is it possible that broker’s obligation is not specific to those securities held by the customer, but is merely a monetary amount?. Investor has tried calling the SEC to find out about this, but nobody at the Commission among those willing to answer the telephone has the slightest idea what Investor is talking about. The same is true for all reachable executives at [Firm] and all so called securities lawyers listed in the bar association directory. Investor tries calling Skadmen, Covet and Burrowing, Dally Poke, etc., where receptionist asks whether Investor is an existing client, is told no, puts customer on hold for 20 minutes to one hour and then hangs up.

        My darling, Yves, do you know anything about this? If you can explain it I promise never to disagree with you again.

  1. LucyLulu

    Wandering off topic temporarily —

    Tonight Rachel Maddow had on Eugene Robinson from the WaPo. During the interview, Eugene responded, “Quelle surprise!”

    Yves, that’s pretty impressive that you have Pulitzer-prize winning journalists now not only following you, but quoting you. But as some people might say, “quelle surprise!”.

    Et Lucie, elle dit que “c’est formidable!”.

  2. David Apgar

    Thanks, DE, nice clear post. The only hope for a country in a currency union running a big current account deficit whose external debt burden is becoming unmanageable is austerity in the hope of eventual deflation. (The deflation is needed to make it competitive enough to cut its current account deficit despite its fixed currency.)

    But if deflation worked so well, the US ought to be out of its housing crisis by now, right? Hence the importance of debt relief, as you point out, particularly for countries that have put their houses in reasonable order.

    The worst part of all this is that the vast majority of portfolio managers who have been buying euro zone debt knew all this from the beginning. Remember, we’re talking to a large degree about bond buyers in European banks. But why accept a loss on your bet when you can find financial reporters who will believe you thought euro zone debt was somehow guaranteed and compliant international financial institutions that see a Lehmanesque implosion in every bank loss?

    At the end of the day, nevertheless, it’s easier to ask banks to take losses on freely undertaken bets — they’re built for that — than to ask nations to take on deflation without a clear term or limits.

  3. JTFaraday

    “As even the most junior project manager would tell you, the failure to make steps towards realising your original benefits is a sure determinate that your project is failing and should be halted pending a review to determine if its worth proceeding.”

    This is working from entirely WRONG PREMISES. The IMF has no interest in fostering productive economies.

    Failure is their business. Generating failed states is their business. The superimposition of a supra-national finance regime in its place is their business.

    Thus, they are entirely successful on their own terms. Everyone surely knows this, but for some inexplicable reason, people who know better persist in playing along with the charade.

    1. Jim Haygood

      We’ve seen this movie before. At Versailles, fronting for U.S. banksters who’d lent big to the European combatants, Woody Wilson demanded towering reparations from Germany. ‘Le Boche Paiera!’ echoed the French peanut gallery.

      A cooler-headed observer, Maynard Keynes, established his public reputation with a book (The Economic Consequences of the Peace, 1919) which correctly predicted that Woody’s dog’s breakfast of a peace treaty ultimately would get barfed back onto the floor, leaving a nasty multicolored mess.

      Now as Greece’s slow-motion bank run (which has consumed a fourth of its deposits in two years) continues, the ECB has cumulatively advanced tens of billions of euros in non-haircutable debt to the insolvent Greek banking system.

      If past patterns prevail, after Greece’s inevitable default, official claims of the IMF and ECB likely will remain outstanding for decades … in much the same manner as some defaulted czarist-era Russian debt wasn’t finally paid off until the late 20th century.

      ‘Le Grec Paiera!’, insist the Troika, however improbably. Students of economic history know better. These one-trick-pony bankster clowns never change their tune. Take their money, then stiff them up the wazoo.

    2. walter_map

      Agreed. The evidence clearly shows that Greece’s financial problems were deliberately engineered by the western bank cartel to achieve exactly this result.

      Conversations like this one fearfully avoid the ugly ugly truth: banksters and mafiosi go in for loan-sharking because its extremely profitable for the loan sharks, and debt slavery enables all manner of coercive and profitable tactics. The ruthless have admitted to playing these games for centuries and people really ought to learn how to spot an international organized crime syndicate when they see one.

      Greece was just for practice.

    3. Hugh

      Yes, bleeding Greece white is a feature, not a bug. The same can be said for the rest of the periphery.

      It is interesting how the timeframe on the positive PR on these eurodeals has telescoped from a few months to a month to a few weeks to a week to a few days to a day. The pertinent question now is that if can kicking is no longer an option, how long before the crash, and what will it look like?

    4. Lafayette

      Failure is their business. Generating failed states is their business.

      Bollocks to this sort of rant that demonstrates no comprehension whatsoever of what the IMF does and does not do.

      Pure, unadulterated populism.

    5. diptherio

      When I was doing my Econ undergrad I wrote a paper on for my International class on the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programs. I was baffled when I discovered that something like 98% of the IMF’s development loans to “developing” countries were defaulted on. I thought, “these must be the most incompetent bankers of all time.” Years later I heard the author of _Confessions of an Economic Hitman_ interviewed on the radio and it all became clear. The idea was for the countries to default so that “structural adjustment” could be imposed on them, forcing them to sell off their state owned resources and infrastructure. It is quite telling that the IMF didn’t even consider poverty alleviation as something they should be working on until, I believe, the early 90’s. And then, of course, it was just rhetoric.

      They’ve been practicing for years and by now have their racket down to a finely tuned science. Many in the economics profession, it seems, remain willfully blind to these realities. So much the worse for us.

    6. Fiver

      You’d think the Latin American debt crisis, and the wars, the revolts, the CIA coups, their death squads, the hundreds of thousands killed and millions thrown into abject poverty and the disgustingly ugly interventions since, all the while pretending the aim was to HELP, had all taken place in the 17th century. The idea they STILL don’t know what they doing and it’s a question of bad policy due to bad theory is an awful tough sell for me. What scares the living crap out of the IMF et al is the example of Argentina finally busting free – Papandreau would now be dead had he tried to proceed with that referendum.

  4. Norman

    Off Topic here: Gosh Yves, no apology needed for this holiday season’s demands, be it business or personal, you fans all know what it’s like. So, with pocket book in hand, sally forth these remaining days of this memorable season, for the upcoming New Year, promises to be a real eye opener.

  5. LBS

    I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this is all rather convenient for those who want to rake in cash by buying out Greek state assets, and then further cashing in for charging the state/people for use of those assets.

    It’s all about plunder, isn’t it?

    This isn’t a conspiracy theory, just common sense. There was great money to be had when the Soviet Union privatized, and it was had — in the billions — much to the detriment of the Russian people.

    And I don’t need Naomi Klein to tell me (though I’m grateful she does) that powerful humans feed on catastrophe like flies on a corpse.

    The point here is privatization, nu?

    What’s strange is all the Europeans I talk to — particularly in France — seem so oblivious to it all. No rallies. Little concern. And those liberal dems in Britain defending the EU? It’s a strange world when I can get more wisdom from the London Telegraph — which I understand to be conservative — than from the liberal Guardian.

    It makes me feel a little better about being an American. We are an under-educated country largely schooled by Fox news, and yet we’re holding our own against those who have benefited from a system that has been as near to utopia as humans have gotten to (at least in the Western World) — a system they love (socialist democracy) but not enough to protect.

    We are no longer those stupid Americans. Europeans (particularly in France and Germany) are out-stupiding us by a wide margin now. I suppose I should be happy.

    But then again, I am glad I am not.

    1. walter_map

      “It’s all about plunder, isn’t it?”

      My mommy always said there were no monsters, no real ones. But there are.

      It should be obvious to any informed observer that the goal of the ruling class is to reduce the populations of Europe and the US to the role of livestock, as they already are in China and India. No conspiracy theory needed. You’re watching it happen in real time:

      ‘”…[T]he powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole…”

      ‘This wealth is now being used to construct and maintain the World Empire that is in the last stages of development. The World Empire is partly visible and partly invisible today.

      ‘The chief architects of this new World Empire are planning another war – World War III – to eliminate any vestiges of political, economic or religious freedom from the face of the earth. They will then completely control the earth.’

      Why, when the situation is so clear and alarming, does it remain so stubbornly intractable to change? It’s because those who have power in the world want it to be this way.

    2. Lafayette

      It’s all about plunder, isn’t it?

      Yet more ranting from the Looney Left.

      It’s all about past Greek profligacy and the ineptitude of its past politicos to manage properly the debt they contracted under the table and off the books.

      Just like Dubya did for his personal-war over in the sandbox.

      1. diptherio

        The Loony Left? Surely you jest. The IMF has been a loan-sharking operation for at least the last fifty years.

      2. Fiver

        They’re howling at that one in Latin America.

        Where the f*** was the IMF or any of the other leading lights of our world (the Fed, ECB, other Central Banks, BIS and every government Goldman Sachs (for one) had fully penetrated and all their supporting think tanks and very best of the best when all this utterly moronic, unpayable debt was racked up in the first place?

  6. JC Starbuck

    The ongoing austerity thing is very reminiscent of the Mafia/Organized Crime scam where they run up the debts on a business without any intention of repaying…a hollowing out until there is only a shell remaining. Greece, Ireland et al are being forced to sell off assets at pennies on the dollar leaving the debt to be paid by the public. It doesn’t compute, and the Banksters know it doesn’t work, just like the other criminals know that bankrupting a company doesn’t work, unless you are the one who has cleaned out and sold the assets.

    The German banks will have economical control of governments. How long before an anti German reaction will result in more virulent forms of expression?

  7. F. Beard

    As I have explained many times before, this policy will fail because the deflationary effects of austerity will mean that the economy no longer has the ability to services its existing debts as it is not receiving compensation for that deflation via its export sector due to the non-responsive currency. Delusional Economics

    Succinctly said! The problem is debt service and deficit spending (sans a positive trade balance) is the only way the private sector can get the required interest.

    So what is going on? A deliberate Depression? And what is an appropriate penalty for deliberating causing a Depression? Is that not the highest form of treason?

  8. bigsurtree

    “There is perhaps no method more irresistible of obtaining
    lands from them than by letting them get in debt, which when too heavy to be paid, they are always willing to lop off by a cession of land.”

    Tho. Jefferson 1802, the founder of the policy of removal and extraction and our first great colony, Louisiana. But to his credit, he did socialize a bit with his plantation workers.

  9. Lafayette


    As I have explained many times before, this policy will fail because the deflationary effects of austerity will mean that the economy no longer has the ability to services its existing debts as it is not receiving compensation for that deflation via its export sector due to the non-responsive currency.

    Yes, and he’s not the only one. This sort of concern is becoming a generalized rant.

    But what did Merkel do when the banks refused to take a haircut on Greeks sovereign debt? She threatened to block the payment of the next Greek subvention, meaning the country would default. The banks caved …

    And what would be the circumstance, after making its best efforts at reducing expenditures but refusing to widen the holes in its renowned Safety Net, if the banks were asked to take a haircut on European debt in general.

    Or perhaps an extension of the payment period with lower installments?

    They’d cave to that to …

    The banks and the EuroZone nations have one another by their mutual beards.

    1. Procopius

      “If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, the bank owns you. If you owe the bank ten billion dollars, you own the bank.”

  10. Lafayette


    Greece’s austerity program “has relied, in our view, too much on taxes and I think one of the things we have seen in 2011 is that we have reached the limit of what can be achieved through increasing taxes,”

    That may be so, but maybe Greece is the wrong example?

    Two examples of why:
    * The Greek Orthodox Church, after the Greek State, is the largest owner of real estate in the country. It is also, by law, exempt from paying property taxes.
    * One of the best performing Greek hard-currency earning export sectors is maritime shipping. The revenues from this activity have been kept offshore for a great long time. (I have this from a personal source at a bank in Monaco.)

    There is plenty Greece could do, if it found the will to do it. That is the real problem, methinks.


    Taxes are a key element of any incomes policy. We all know that, particularly in the US where we have, lo and behold, after such a long time finally understood that there is a “one-percent” group that has garnered a great deal of the nation’s wealth.

    Income Fairness is the unspoken stalking horse, I suggest, of any discussion on incomes policy. Incomes Policy in both the US and the EU are at antipodes, with the former being a high-tax region and the latter a low tax region.

    But let’s look at the consequences of just such a difference of incomes policy. By means of the Gini Coefficient.

    World Bank Gini Coefficients (here):
    Australia – 35
    China – 42
    France – 33
    Germany – 28
    Japan – 25
    Sweden – 25
    Switzerland – 34
    United Kingdom – 36
    United States – 41

    The disparity between the highest and the lowest income classes thus becomes obvious as the Gini Coefficient increases. The higher taxation, in general, the lower the GI, since taxes pay for public services that benefit the well-being of all a nation’s citizens.

    The opposite, lower taxation, benefits just a select class of individuals … aka “the plutocrats”.

    1. Lafayette

      Typo: Incomes Policy in both the US and the EU are at antipodes, with the former being a high-tax region and the latter a low tax region.

      Should read: Incomes Policy in both the US and the EU are at antipodes, with the former being a lower-tax region and the latter a higher-tax region.

  11. Susan the other

    I agree it looks like a standoff between the ECB and private banking. It will only be suicide if they aren’t bluffing on austerity. But if the 26 keep adjusting like they love to do then they can fix austerity. The way the ECB can force the hand of the banks is NOT to pay for the banks’ mistakes. Isn’t that precisely why they bid goodbye to the UK?

  12. Valissa

    The End of Old Europe – Why Merkel’s Triumph Will Come at a High Price,1518,803097,00.html#ref=nlint

    European Commission President José Manuel Barroso even spoke of “warlike conditions.” According to Barroso, Merkel and Sarkozy are trying to impose their views on everyone else, even though they themselves can hardly agree on any issue. The fact that the majority of countries bowed to the German-French duo in the end shows how dependent the EU is on its two biggest financiers. Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias described the dilemma in a nutshell: “We really ought to engineer a revolution against Merkel and Sarkozy, but each of us needs the two of them for something.”

    This explains a lot! I have been quite surprised at how accomodating the Eurozone members in regards to giving up some if their sovereignty. What kind of behind-the-scene financial or political threats have been made (aka the power and money games)? I find it difficult to believe the submission of so many countries to Merkel and her pet chihuahua Sarkozy is all due to dreams of Euopean unity due to fear of war. Instead of war based on invading armies, it’s financial warfare.

    It seems the herd instinct is also in play here… as well as a sense of helplessness/confusion… which makes for a disturbing combo of the behavior of lemmings and a deer-in-the headlights.

    1. bigsurtree

      Don’t worry, Napoleon’s planning another return with even a bigger bag of gold from Uncle Sam this time around.

  13. steelhead23

    This is perhaps a somewhat dated question: A month or so ago, the ECB floated the concept of an orderly haircut on Greek bonds, going so far as to obtain a preliminary finding from the ISDA that such a haircut would not trigger a default condition and the feared CDS avalanche. What happened to render that concept unworkable? I am thinking that some bankers evaluated their conditions following such a haircut and determined that they would become insolvent, or nearly so, so quashed the idea, but I’m just guessing. It simply died. If austerity cannot work, and the banks are allergic to a write-down, isn’t the only remaining option the purchase of weak bonds by the ECB, or perhaps explicit guarantees? That would lead to inflation/devaluation and likely considerable animosity between euro states. I guess that is what we are now watching. Frankly, I see things as so intractable that even if all of Europe were to hand the mess to Yves and friends to figure out, substantial turmoil would ensue. I get a kick out of kicking central bank policy around like a rag doll, but really, there is no good solution, only less bad ones.

  14. ECON

    Robert Rubin on Charlie Rose put the most pessimistic voice on the Euro crisis especially for his position in the bankster sector in the USA. Maybe Citi would take a lethal hit if the collapse arises.

  15. Lafayette

    Maybe Citi would take a lethal hit if the collapse arises.

    But the collapse wont happen. We’ve all paid for Robert’s rise to the top at Citi after he and Larry Summers convinced Billy-boy to dump the Glass-Steagal Act, which helped provoke a decade later the SubPrime Mess and thereby the Great Recession of 2009 – from which we have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Btw, the euro is depreciating against the dollar, which helps European exports by making them cheaper in dollars. Which means, hopefully, more employment for Europe.

    Great move, I’d say, for the euro. But if the euro depreciates then the dollar appreciates, which hurts American exports – since both work in see-saw fashion.

  16. Kunst

    So once the Greeks have sold off all the productive assets of their country, and still have mountains of debt, what are they supposed to do then?

    1. Lafayette

      You are not reading all the posts.

      The second largest property owner (read “assets”) after the Greek government is the Greek Orthodox Church. By law, it pays no property taxes.

      The Church can be asked to carry its share of the burden. And, yes, the Greek government has to get tough on those who have been hiding their riches offshore.

      Greece is not a poor a country as one might think …

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