ATHENS: Greece on Saturday demanded “explanations” from the International Monetary Fund after WikiLeaks said the lender sought a crisis “event” to push the indebted nation into concluding talks over its reforms.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he would write to IMF chief Christine Lagarde and reach out to European leaders, after the website published what it said was a transcript of a teleconference in which IMF officials complained that Athens only moves decisively when faced with the peril of default.
An “event” was therefore needed to drive the threat of default and get the Greeks to act, the officials say in the document dated March 19, and released by the whistleblowing website Saturday. The nature of such an “event” is not specified.
The officials also express concern that Britain’s referendum in June on EU membership will hold up the negotiations, predicting that the vote will halt the talks on Athens’ latest massive international bailout “for a month.”
The Greek government reacted strongly to the report, saying it wanted the IMF to clarify its position.
“The Greek government is demanding explanations from the IMF over whether seeking to create default conditions in Greece, shortly ahead of the referendum in Britain, is the fund’s official position,” spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said in a statement.
Tsipras’ office added: “The Prime Minister will immediately send an official letter to Christine Lagarde over the issue.”
In an emailed statement, the IMF said it did not comment on leaks or “supposed reports of internal discussions.”
“We have stated clearly what we think is needed for a durable solution to the economic challenges facing Greece — one that puts Greece on a path of sustainable growth supported by a credible set of reforms matched by debt relief from its European partners,” it added.
‘We need an event’
Those taking part in the leaked discussion were Iva Petrova and Delia Velculescu, who have been representing the IMF in the negotiations with Greece, and Poul Thomsen, director of the Fund’s European Department.
In it, Thomsen allegedly voices exasperation with the slow pace of talks on the economic reforms Athens has agreed to carry out in exchange for a new 84-billion-euro ($95 billion) international bailout agreed in July, after months of bruising negotiations that saw Greece teeter on the brink of a eurozone exit.
The IMF has yet to officially sign onto Greece’s latest bailout and is making its participation conditional on the fact that no ground is yielded on the reforms needed by Athens, especially on pensions.
“In the past there has been only one time when the decision has been made and then that was when (the Greeks) were about to run out of money seriously and to default,” Thomson is quoted as saying in the transcript.
Later in the conversation, Velculescu reportedly replies: “I agree that we need an event, but I don’t know what that will be.”
She also says that Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselboem is trying to “jump start” a discussion on debt but “not to generate an event.”
Mission chiefs from Greece’s international lenders — the EU, IMF, European Central Bank and European rescue fund — are due to resume an audit of the reforms on Monday.
But the institutions are believed to be clashing over their assessment of the current state of the Greek economy, with the IMF worried that estimates drawn up by the EU and Greece do not add up.
In the WikiLeaks transcript, the IMF officials allegedly say Greece’s leftist government is “not even getting close” to accepting their views.
“(The Greeks) don’t have any incentive and they know that the (European) Commission is willing to compromise, so that is the problem,” Velculescu is cited as saying.
Athens is under pressure to address the large number of non-performing loans burdening Greek banks and to push forward with a pension and tax overhaul resisted by farmers and white-collar staff.
Tsipras has accused the IMF of employing “stalling tactics” and “arbitrary” estimates to delay a reforms review crucial to unlock further bailout cash. AFP