Financial Regulatory Forum

EU asks Greece to explain derivatives reports

By Luke Baker and David Brunnstrom

BRUSSELS, Feb 15 (Reuters) – The European Union has asked Greece to explain reports that it engaged in derivatives trades with U.S. investment banks that may have allowed it to mask the size of its debt and deficit from EU authorities.

According to the New York Times, one contract in 2001 — carried out just as Greece was joining Europe’s monetary union — involved Greece selling forward future lottery receipts and airport landing fees in exchange for cash to write down debts.

The deal was treated as a currency trade rather than a loan, according to the newspaper, allowing Greece to hide it from public view while meeting EU deficit limits.

Greece’s finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, on Monday dismissed suggestions that his country may have played fast and loose with monetary rules, saying the transactions Greece took part in were permissible at the time.

“The kind of derivatives contracts reported by some newspapers were legal at that time,” he told reporters in Brussels. “Greece was not the only country to use them…They were made illegal; we have not used them since then.”

EU exec likely to sue Greece over statistics mess

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS, Jan 12 (Reuters) – The European Commission is likely to launch infringement proceedings against Greece for failing to provide reliable statistics on its budget deficit and debt, an EU source with knowledge of the proceedings said on Tuesday.

The Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, is responsible for upholding EU law. It had already once launched proceedings against Greece for unreliable deficit statistics in 2004, but closed them in 2007.

“There will probably be another infringement procedure… because providing timely and reliable statistics is an obligation under EU law and they have failed in their obligation,” the EU source said.