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"White collars" mafia – the usury network in Thessaloniki has been broken

19 January 2012 / 15:01:08  GRReporter
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Around one billion euro is believed to have been the profit of the massive network involving 53 extortionists and moneylenders, police in Thessaloniki revealed in the last two days. Authorities believe that the criminal group acted free of trouble in the second largest Greek city for more than 15 years and the number of its victims is between 1,500-2,000 people. The "business" has even grown over the past two years because of the economic crisis and its consequences. According to the case file, the mafia in Thessaloniki lent money at an interest rate of between 5 and 15% per week.

The investigation conducted so far shows that the suicide of the 45-year-old owner of a restaurant in Thessaloniki Leonidas Mariolis in June last year is directly related to the network’s activity. Before jumping from the balcony of his home, he wrote a letter describing the financial racketeering against him and thus helped the police investigation.

According to police, one of the main actors in the group is the 58-year-old restaurant owner Marcos Karamberis, who was involved in the case of the property of the Vatopedi monastery. He was a candidate for vice-governor of Imatia in the voting-paper of Kyriakos Velopoulos from LAOS.

The brothers Konstantinos and Marios Meletis, who were previously accused of drug trafficking and confrontation with police, played a leading role.

Among the defendants is the 54-year-old businessman Dimitrios Lambakis known as the owner of a factory for the production of puff pastry in Halkidiki. The police claim that the company was seized from its previous owner for unpaid debts to moneylenders. The case file contains charges to his relatives, including a 25-year-old man.

One of the biggest surprises is the involvement of the representative of the management body of the service fighting economic crimes in Thessaloniki Christos Papahatzis in the network. The case file also contains telephone conversations, saying, "he keeps the complaints against the activity of the usury network, especially against the accused Marcos Karamberis, locked in his drawer."

The name of the journalist of the public TV ERT 3 George Feretis is among the names of the defendants. According to police, "he borrowed money from Marcos Karamberis in the past, but later, he began performing financial transactions and usurious activities for the particular businessman against large sums of money."

The preliminary case file contains the name of a member of a large bank who is charged for the settlement of all banking matters of the network and for "laundering" the profits of moneylenders.

Police estimated that five million euro have been "cleaned" by the system of winning lottery slips. Not long ago, Marcos Karamberis and one of his assistants travelled frequently to Switzerland, where they spent large sums of usurious gains.

The usury network involved three police officers too. One of them was responsible for the "appointment" of network members in night facilities and for the transfer of money collected by night mafia. The other policeman informed the criminal group about the investigations held by his colleagues and received large sums of money in return.

The official police statement indicates that the case file contains 2,500 recorded telephone conversations, 50 testimonies and thousands of documents for bank transfers. Authorities say the 53 persons captured were involved in four criminal groups. Among them are two lawyers, a doctor, an employee in a football club and employees in private companies.

The case began to be unravelled in May 2011, when a citizen with initials I.D. went to the police station and said he was a victim of loan sharks and intended to provide information about the members of the group. After his testimony, the police began tapping the telephones of some of them and gradually revealed dozens of calls and persons. The police divided the large racketeering network into four groups. They not only had contacts and exchanged information about their current and potential victims, but also imposed together penalties on those who transgressed the rules. That was the fate of the main witness who had made the first complaint against them.
During the months-long investigation, the police managed to establish their mode of action and to find the number of people who had borrowed money from the moneylenders. Among the victims were not only dozens of individuals but also the owners of 33 shops and businesses who were racketeered.

Tags: Crime newsUsury networkCriminal groupSuicideTestimonyPoliceThessaloniki
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