Greece — The Greek police have launched legal proceedings against three members of a voluntary organization operating in Thessaloniki on charges of “committing multiple crimes.”
According to police sources, they are members of the Voluntary Corp of Greek Firemen and were able to obtain, by fraud, over 2.5 million euro in the form of subscriptions or donations from various municipalities and private companies. The persons involved in the scheme are president of the voluntary organization Nikos Sahinidis, his wife and another member of the management board.
As stated on the organization’s website, “it was established in Greece in 1998 and is a voluntary organization registered in the General Secretariat for Civil Protection under № 004 /2001 and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under № 428”.
How was the fraud committed?
The case has been unravelled by policemen from the security department in Thessaloniki. The police investigation and a thorough analysis of the financial records of the organization showed that since the year 2000 the persons involved in the case had fraudulently obtained large sums of money from municipalities and private companies.
The communication of the police states that “the organization has embezzled over 2,500,000 euro, as those involved had presented to mayors and members of the boards of private companies a false picture of the legislative framework and of the organization’s ability to create voluntary fire stations, participate in fire fighting and transportation of victims, as well as of the functional capacity of the cars, fire engines and ambulances provided by the organization to the municipalities.
” The vehicles in questions are used vehicles provided to the organization by different European countries in the form of donations.
The following had been established in the majority of the cases: the vehicles did not have registration plates, they were not registered and the relevant fees were not paid, they did not pass the relevant technical inspection, they were not insured, nor did they have the necessary certificates of suitability issued by the fire service or the national emergency centre.
Thus, the members of the organization “were able to embezzle money in the form of subscriptions or donations by presenting their activities as volunteering and support for local communities.” According to the police, the amounts ranged from 2,000 euro to 12,000 euro.
Moreover, according to the message, in order for “the president of the voluntary organization to achieve cooperation with the municipalities, he had tried to bribe senior officials in the local government.
” The police sources claim that the attempted bribery took place in the municipalities of the Magnesia region.
Upon completion of the preliminary inquest and the police investigation carried out by the department for the protection of property rights to the security department in Thessaloniki, the case file has been submitted to the prosecutors office.
According to sources, a former camp in Imatia had been placed at the organizations disposal in order for it to build its “base” there, despite the objections of the leaders of the General Secretariat for Civil Protection of the time.
In addition, in 2006, General Secretary for Civil Protection of the time Panagiotis Fourlas had informed that, during the fires in Halkidiki, Nikos Sahinidis had not assisted the fire department.
At the same time, apart from the subscriptions and donations, the organization had organized lotteries and fundraising among ordinary citizens, seeking their financial support. In addition, it is reported that the president of the organization had “mobilized” young people from abroad, accommodated them in a campsite in Halkidiki and demonstrated that he had an “army” of volunteers, thus being able to obtain more money.
The local media in Thessaloniki have recently published complaints that “the vehicles of the volunteer organization do not meet the requirements and the training centre does not have the necessary licence.
” The same publications state that “at the time of the investigation it had been established that some of the vehicles of the organization did not have even insurance and registration plates! Moreover, some of them are over 30 years old and have been condemned as defective by the European countries which have delivered them.
” In response, the president of the Voluntary Corp of Greek Firemen states that it all started with an anonymous report. He accuses the General Secretary for Civil Protection that, instead of requesting additional data and clarification of the case, he has forwarded it to the prosecutors office in Thessaloniki, which has actually carried out a preliminary investigation along with the Greek police.
He also states in his message, “We had no registration plates before because we were unable to cover this cost. With the help of various documents and political promises, three ministers were trying to help by exempting us from this expense in order for the matter to be resolved, but time was passing by and so we were forced to obtain the registration plates with the help of sponsors. In this way, the state received over 150,000 for our volunteer vehicles.
” He also notes, “The allegations that the vehicles are old and discarded are funny. All our cars are suitable for the purpose and verified by the Ministry of Transport which has issued the registration plates.”
Donation from Germany
It should be noted that on 12 November 2012 Germanys Deputy Minister of labour Hans-Joachim Fuhtel had visited the base of the NGO in Rizomata, Imatia.
Almost a year later Germany carried out a ceremony at which it delivered to the Voluntary Corp of Greek Firemen 5 vehicles which, as announced, “have been donated by the Ministry of Defence of Germany in favour of the Voluntary Corp of Greek Firemen. They will be transformed into fire tanks with a capacity of 10,000 litres, thus becoming the largest vehicles of this category in Greece.”
The delivery of the vehicles took place at a special ceremony within the context of the fourth Greek- German meeting that was held in Nuremberg between 21 and 23 October, in the presence of representatives of the political leadership of the two countries, local governments and of Greek and German media. Among those present were Deputy Minister Fuhtel, an authorized representative of the Chancellor for the meeting, Yiannis Michelakis, Minister of the Interior of Greece, Nikos Sahinidis, president of the Voluntary Corp of Greek Firemen and others.
Part of a report by Focus magazine was the bombshell
Let us recall that in late November 2013 the German Focus magazine published a report concerning the imposition of a higher tax on imported fire engines donated to Greece from Germany and Austria. The publication thoroughly examines the issue of voluntary organizations of firemen and the gangs that allegedly operate in this industry.
The report also notes that the Greek professional fire department with its 9,200 employees required 350 million euro per year whereas the financial requirements of founder and head of the Voluntary Corp of Greek Firemen Nikos Sahinidis and his 1,200 volunteers amounted to 2 million euro in 10 years and, because they were not enough to improve the organization’s budget, he had paid out of his pocket the sum of 74,500 euro.
Nikos Sahinidis believes that the state competition lies behind these malicious actions because his business model disturbs the functioning model of the fire department. A typical example is the fact that, while the professional fire service buys the fire pumps for 120 euro per piece, Sahinidis has bought the commodity from Germany for just 12 euro.
“Such contracts with highly inflated costs are a common phenomenon”, states the editor of Focus, arguing that this is how bribery occurs.
The union of officers of the fire service had sharply responded to these assertions, stressing in its message that “the initiators of this attack, through the German press, have failed to cover with mud the activities of the fire service and to sabotage the Greek-German cooperation in this area.
” In a letter to Wolfgang Dolt, formerly German Ambassador in Athens, the union declared its “determination to further develop the cooperation between the Greek and German fire services.
” Nikos Sahinidis is being criticized by the Greek federation of unions of employees of the fire service too, the reason for this being his statements before the local DELTATV channel, when he used phrases such as “a lazy fire department”, “permanently employed firemen who receive money for nothing or for doing a job only one month throughout the year.
” Before “To Vima” newspaper, president of the federation Nikolaos Athanatos notes that its legal department has undertaken to examine the fragment of these qualifications and, if they are considered offensive, it will initiate the necessary legal procedures against Nikos Sahinidis.