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The shadowy scandal of the State Telecommunications Company

19 January 2013 / 18:01:19  GRReporter
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The shady affair with the State Telecommunications Company's "adult phone" calls is becoming a difficult to solve judicial mystery that raises many questions about past events behind the scenes. The scandal, in which Anastasios Palis, a former military officer, plays a major role, has been "hanging" in the Greek justice system for eight years now, after the charges submitted to the Office for Investigation of Economic Crimes in December 2005 by the former CEO of the company, Panagiotis Vourloumis.

Vourloumis's actions are a result of the report of the company's internal control, which showed the extent of  the fraud. The investigation of the economic crimes office discovered misappropriations amounting to 4,000,000 euro. The Prosecution Office brought charges of abuse, but what is paradoxical and scandalous here is the deliberate delay in the investigation. According to court sources, we may even speak of a denial of justice in this case, because, despite the fact that the file has been in the office of the investigator since 21 May 2008, there has been no development on it for five years.

Legal circles' sources expressed their surprise for at the fact that the case has been pending in the investigation stage for five years, although it concerns damage to state property and despite the reports of the Office for Investigation of Economic Crimes and the internal company control. As noted, such cases must be investigated quickly.

The scandal broke out when the issue of the notorious sex phone calls reached the telecommunications company's Department for Internal Control that conducted an investigation on international telephone traffic to premium-rate telephone numbers. Investigators conducted an investigation in the company's subsidiary, OTEGLOBE, in order to find similar circumstances and assess the performance and effectiveness of the actions taken in terms of managing international telephone traffic to premium-rate numbers. The investigators' attention was directed to the contract signed between OTEGLOBE, Ronda Company (represented by Anastasios Palis) and the Cypriot offshore company Carriers Global. According to the confidential report, the contract was not legal because it was not established by any documents from the relevant authorities, it was incomplete and ineffective in terms of preserving the interests of the company.

The inspection found that:

- The legalisation of the contracting international services providers and their representatives has not been checked.

- The offers for the selection of collaborators for international services for international telecommunications traffic have not been evaluated sufficiently.

- The terms of the contracts between OTEGLOBE and the international providers were not comprehensive and clear enough.

- It was not determined how international telecommunications traffic to premium-rate telephone numbers will be managed.

- The terms of the existing contracts were violated.

Following these revelations, employees, in order to reduce the negative consequences of the abuse and protect the company from similar problems in the future, offered to notify the competent investigating authorities so that they could investigate and find those responsible, check again the existing contracts and legalise and implement the policies and actions that are valid in the case of telecommunications frauds.

A chronicle of the revelations

In December 2005, the then CEO of the National Telecommunications Company, Panagiotis Vourloumis, appealed against the company Ronda, which is the second official telecommunications provider in the small African country Sao Tome and Principe. The appeal was directed against the winning contract signed in 2004 between Ronda and the subsidiary of the state telecom OTEGLOBE, which refers to the establishment of telephone traffic, which would be produced by the telecommunications company in the direction of Sao Tome and Principe to the recipient Ronda.

This contract has a key role for the enormous misappropriations that led to losses for the telecom amounting to 4,000,000 euro and made thousands of unsuspecting customers pay for "adult" calls over the Internet which they have never made.

The triangle of communications

The history of the case and the large report of the Office for Combating Economic Crimes show that, in April 2003, Anastasios Palis appeared in the office of OTEGLOBE. There, he stated that he represented the company Ronda Communicacoes Internationais SA in Greece, which, according to him, was the second official provider of telecommunications services in Sao Tome and Principe, and showed a contract that was allegedly signed by a Minister of the African country called Capitao Amaro. Negotiations continued for about a year and, in July 2004, an extremely profitable contract between the two companies was signed for telephone traffic from the state telecom to Sao Tome and Principe and the company of Mr. Palis. In parallel, another company appeared that would take over the role of a mediator between the telecommunication lines OTEGLOBE and Ronda. This was the Cypriot offshore company Carriers Global Ltd, based in Lefkosia and represented by Michalis Vlavianos.

The inspection made it clear that, in this way, Palis and his associates managed to create a combination which caused losses to the telecom amounting to 4,000,000 euro, as well as to thousands of subscribers for calls to erotic phones which they have never made. A "malware" lies at the centre of all this, which is installed via the Internet on users' computers and makes calls to erotic phones, without subscribers themselves suspecting anything. Δialer - i.e. the program that makes phone calls without the user's knowledge, makes international calls to random premium-rate telephone numbers. This is repeated continuously while the customer is online, and every time he or she tries to connect to the network.

In order to initiate traffic and therefore charging, someone has to answer the call, of course. This is done through special modems that are available in certain areas. The affair was revealed when Sao Tome and Principe's official supplier, CST, intervened with an official letter informing OTEGLOBE that the country's phone codes are +239 2ΧΧΧ and +239 9ΧΧΧ, and not +239 5ΧΧΧ, which is used by the company of Palis.

Another interesting fact is that, although CST informed OTEGLOBE about that, the company Ronda continued its activities until September 2005, when CST was forced to appeal to the International Telecommunication Union that OTEGLOBE, via Palis's company, uses illegally the prefix +239 5ΧΧΧ. Of course, the appeal was uploaded on the Internet as well, and, as a result, the state telecommunications company was accused of abuse of national resources of a foreign country. "Thus, Anastasios Palis and his associates managed to gain a profit of 3,585,898 euro, and asked OTEGLOBE to send them 1,137,914 euro more," ended the report of the Office for Combating Economic Crimes. Afterwards, the baton was taken by the telecom's then CEO, Panagiotis Vourloumis, who appealed against Palis and in this way began unravelling the case, which has been left at the stage of investigation so far.

The main person involved in this case, who is directly accused by Vourloumis, is Anastasios Palis. His versatile work is worthy of wonder - a professional soldier with five years of service in aviation, he became a museum director, then dealt with shipping and publishing, and owns 40% of the shares of Proto Thema Newspaper. He has also been an economic adviser to the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, maintaining friendly relations with Abbot Ephraim. Then, he appeared on Crete as a shareholder of the British company Loyalward, which is associated with the case of the Monastery Toplou, and tried to transfer an area of 25,913 acres to the English company via the Mother of God Akrotiriani Foundation. This terrain includes the palm forest in Vai and archaeological sites. After Crete, he visited Africa, from where he returned to Greece as "the second official telecommunications provider" for the state of Sao Tome and Principe. He also somehow created the cultural and historical PALIS Foundation and Museum, which aimed at the popularisation of Greece's cultural heritage. The site of the museum shows that its founder maintains good relations with politicians such as Karolos Papoulias and Dimitris Avramopoulos. Recently, he has become close friends with Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias. Palis's name was involved in other legal cases as well, for example "The Real Estate Mafia" scandal.

Tags: State Telecommunications Company Anastasios Palis misappropriations investigations OTEGLOBE
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