|Friday, 15 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-03-01
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 1 March 2013 Issue No: 4299
 Tax inspections progress according to schedule, reportTax inspections on large enterprises more than doubled in February, compared with January, while inspections on wealthy taxpayers tripled over the same period, the Finance Ministry said on Thursday.
In a statement, commenting on a troika report which criticized the weaknesses of the Greek tax administration in its battle against tax evasion, the Finance Ministry said that an electronic interconnection of tax agencies with commercial banks - offering a full view of taxpayers' bank accounts - will be implemented this year. The ministry noted that collection of overdue tax debt grew 70 pct in January, adding that it has activated all its powers towards resolving problems pointed in the troika report.
The Finance Ministry said there were no deviations from its targets in tax inspection of large enterprises and wealthy taxpayers, adding that significant progress has been made in completing these inspections this year. The ministry said that tax inspections on wealthy taxpayers totaled 1,789 last year, while tax agencies have sent 24,710 notifications to taxpayers with bank accounts abroad.
A tax fraud agency has also begun inspections on 1,681 taxpayers and 40 enterprises whose names were included in a so-called Lagarde list of Greeks with bank accounts in foreign banks. It also said that concrete actions have been made towards combating fuel smuggling and tax evasion by petrol stations, while on efforts to reforming tax administration, the report noted that actions taken so far along with measures scheduled for the next three months would result to a more efficient tax administration system. These actions included the appointment of an independent secretary-general of public revenues, allocating more personnel in departments with tax inspection and tax collection duties and introducing an evaluation process for inspectors and high-ranking officials.
 Greece has made a significant job in fiscal consolidation, IMF saysNEW YORK (AMNA/P.Panagiotou)
Greece has made a significant job so far towards fiscal restructuring, William Murrrey, a spokesman for the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters, during a regular press briefing in Washington, Murrey stressed that if further progress was made in structural reforms and mostly in a more efficient collection of taxes, the Greek government could avoid further cuts in wages and pensions.
"It is important to improve a tax system," he said, although he declined to comment on a recently released IMF/EU Commission report on Greece's tax system.
The IMF spokesman said that adjustment of employment levels in the public sector depended on Greek authorities' efforts to do a better job in tax collection and noted that there was nothing specific at this? point. Murrey noted that the government was preparing a plan for the required personnel on each public service, that key positions will not be affected and that there might be adjustments in employment.
He underlined that no figures were mention over dismissals in the public sector and reiterated that the final result will depend on the efficiency of the tax system.
The IMF spokesman said that Poul Thomsen will arrive to Athens early next week as part of a troika delegation to Greece for a regular assessment of the Greek programe and noted that the troika's mission will be completed in mid March. He said that the IMF was examining the issue of extending Greece's programe based on article IV of the Fund's statute.
 Kedikoglou continues investment promotion meetings in RussiaMOSCOW (AMNA/Th. Avgerinos
Promoting the new investment bill, tabled in Greek Parliament recently, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou continued his high-level meetings with politicians and businessmen of Russia on Thursday to discuss investment opportunities in Greece.
Kedikoglou was received by Aleksey Pushkov, the chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee; they discussed parliamentary diplomacy between the two countries and the upcoming invitation to the latter by the Greek Parliament's committee of parliamentary friendship, of which Kedikoglou had been president for eight years.
He also met with Alexander Murichev, executive vice-president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, who expressed interest in the new development law that he will forward to all members of the union.
The new bill includes a provision for encouraging investments through a five-year renewable residence permit of citizens from non-EU countries who invest in real estate purchases of over 300,000 euros. (The amount is still under considereation and may be reduced, as Spain's example has proven that lowering the minimum to 160,000 euros is particularly successful.)
Kedikoglou will meet on Friday with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Titov and possibly with the head of the federation of overseas Greeks of Russia, businessman and PAOK sports club major shareholder Ivan Savvidis.
 Investment bill secures positive vote by ND, PASOK and Democratic LeftDevelopment Minister Kostis Hatzidakis presented a new draft bill on investments, saying that "we must regain a spirit of common sense that necessitates dealing with the problem of the country's competitiveness and how this could boost entrepreneurship as a basic precondition for investments, as well as for tackling unemployment".
The New Democracy party, PASOK and the Democratic Left declared that they voted for the bill in principle, as it was submitted for initial processing at parliament's Production and Trade Committee.
The Independent Greeks party reserved the right to state its position at the Plenum, while the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), the Golden Dawn party and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) voted against the draft bill.
Hatzidakis remarked that "Greece has paid dearly for some populist notions, whereby we almost believed we could get investments without investors and employees without entrepreneurs," and added the government is now moving in the direction of establishing conditions of confidence that will mark a new beginning for the country.
The new investment bill facilitates the licensing system for investment plans with the setting up of the General Directorate of Strategic Investments that will handle all requests for strategic investments, and will operate as the sole point of contact between the government and investors.
It also removes the requirement for a letter of guarantee and allows for potential introduction of tax incentives for strategic investments.
Under the new draft bill, residence permits may be issued to third-country nationals and their family members for buying property in Greece of a value exceeding 300,000 euros.
 SYRIZA: Stabilisation of economy the main concernMain opposition SYRIZA's wager is for the Greek people to emerge from the impoverishment, party MP George Stathakis said Wednesday night during a press conference on the island of Samos.
He said that the focus of SYRIZA's policy is the effort to immediately set up an "anti-Memorandum government that will create a protection net against poverty in the conditions in which unemployment, the humanitarian impoverishment of a substantial section of the Greek people and the humanitarian crisis have reached extreme phenomena".
Replying to press questions on the minimum salary and the extraordinary real estate surtaxes, Stathakis said that SYRIZA's position has not changed and remains that it will restore the minimum salary to the levels it was before the last elections, while the real estate surtax -- which is collected via PPC electricity bills -- will be incorporated into a single tax to be imposed on all those who have large real estate assets.
He also said that SYRIZA's integrated economic programme will be tabled on Monday. The programme, he added, promotes a redistribution of the tax burdens in a way favorable to the weaker social groups, putting the main thrust on the more well-to-do groups of society, which enjoy tax immunity in the midst of the crisis.
Speaking to a gathering later, Stathakis outlined SYRIZA's proposals for an exit from the Greek crisis, which he said focus on efforts to stabilise the economy by totally changing the economic policy, through stabilisation of the state expenditures, and balancing the budget through redistribution of the tax burdens, in tandem with the creation of a "growth agenda" that will mobilize the domestic investment resources so that, from with the central idea of a productive restructure of the economy, the framework for an exit from the crisis may be formulated.
 SYRIZA: Way is being paved for further reduction of minimum salaryMain opposition SYRIZA warned on Thursday that recent statements by Greek EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki and Finance Ministry secretary general George Mergos were paving the way for the implementation of new Memorandum 'monstrosities' to level the workers incomes in accordance with the government's commitments to its troika of international lenders.
"Ms. Damanaki returns, for the second time in just a few days, to confirm the plan for reduction of the minimum salary, belying the government officials that maintain the opposite," SYRIZA said in a press release.
It said that "the statements by the Greek Commissioner, shortly after those of Finance Ministry secretary general Mergos but also one month before the government acquires the right to determine the minimum salary via an Act of Cabinet, lay the groundwork for the implementation of new Memorandum monstrosities to level the incomes of the workers, precisely as foreseen by the commitments of the government and the prime minister's statements of subjugation to the troika," SYRIZA said.
In an interview with the Sunday edition of Eleftherotypia newspaper this past weekend, Damanaki said that the position of the European Commission on the matter of the minimum salary, Damanaki said that the Commission "leaves the issue open, and focuses mainly on the need for social dialogue before any changes", adding that "we will work efficiently so as not to undergo other such pressures".
"I have made it clear to the Commission that there are no margins for further cuts in salaries and pensions. On the contrary Greece needs a protection net for the unemployed and the poor. I must note, however, that the only sure way to avoiding pressures in the future is to concentrate, without delays, on fulfilling our obligations," Damanaki added.
Speaking on private Vima radio station earlier Thursday, Damanaki reiterated that the issue of further reduction of the minimum salary remains open. "I did not say anything irrational, or new," she said of her earlier statement, adding that "this is the firm line that exists in the Commission for the past 1 2/2-2 years," Damanaki said, adding that she had also said in her statements that "it is not ruled out".
She added that the issue of reducing the minimum salary in EU countries has been discussed in the European Commission as one measure to improve the competitiveness of the European enterprises, and cited past announcements by the Commission as well as Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn.
In recent statements, Finance Ministry Secretary General George Mergos had spoken of a need to further reduce the minimum wage in Greece.
 Tsipras in HalkidikiMain opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, meeting on Wednesday afternoon with local citizens in Halkidiki who oppose a planned gold mining investment in the area, accused the government of a "strategy of tension", saying the government was "holding a crash test to see how effective this policy of suppression, violence and terrorism is".
"I consider it incomprehensible that citizens are arrested, beaten and genetic material is taken from them forcibly without the presence of lawyers, and that the basic piece of evidence is whether or not they support the main opposition party. These are reminiscent of other eras, and I greatly fear that this path is a dangerous one," Tsipras said, referring to dawn incendiary attack against the Hellenic Gold worksite in the northern peninsula of Halkidiki some 10 days earlier, during which hooded assailments broke into the premises of the "Hellenic Gold" company in Skouries, where they assaulted guards and set fire to installations, burning vehicles and offices, which resulted in 14 arrests.
Tsipras said "we have not come to add fuel to the fire" but to "unite", adding that SYRIZA was not aiming at earning "political surplus value" but, on the contrary, "to stop the state of war" in Halkidiki, and posed the question of who actually benefited from the "terrorist attack at Skouries".
"Objectively, it benefited the plans of the tension strategy, the plans of the government, which has invested in tension, and served the "gradual transformation of Halkidiki into another Gaza Strip", with suppression, authoritarianism and detentions.
 ND party on SYRIZA deputy statementThe New Democracy party's press office termed as 'unprecedented' a statement by Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) deputy Zoe Konstantopoulou, in which "she threatens a party with lawsuits and court action (...) because it issued an announcement that they [SYRIZA] did not like."
ND criticised the main opposition party of "attempting to muzzle the truth".
ND also said that Konstantopoulou must be more careful when she shakes her finger and find other ways to succeed in being "Tsipras in the place of Mr. Tsipras."
 France politically committed to Greece, visiting Defence MinisterFrance is politically committed to standing by Greece, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after meeting with his Greek counterpart Panos Panagiotopoulos on Thursday.
Le Drian, who had earlier met with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, said this message was conveyed to Athens by request of French President Francois Hollande, who visited Greece officially last Thursday.
The defence ministers announced a new Greek-French committee to draft a collaboration agreement on operational needs of Greece in frigates and airplanes at the lowest possible cost and on operational maintenance of Greek armed forces. They also examined possible cooperation alternatives within the framework of the EU's Pooling & Sharing initiative, in training and replacement parts.
Panagiotopoulos and Le Drian mentioned the historical ties of friendship between the two peoples and said the new agreement is an extension and deepening of bilateral relations within the framework of the existing bilateral military and defence collaboration on a strategic level signed in 2008.
Le Drian thanked Greece for its help in Libya and four the four officers of armed forces sent to participate in training the armed forces of Mali.
The two ministers also discussed the situation in Syria and the Middle East, and confirmed their agreement on Europe's defence.
 President Papoulias receives French Defence Minister"Greece has a geostrategic position which requires powerful armed forces," said President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday during his meeting with visiting French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian that was also attended by Greek Defence Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos.
"We can't compare ourselves with Belgium and Holland, of course, because we have peevish neighbours," Papoulias added.
The President expressed appreciation for France's general support to Greece, adding that the two countries' cooperation is 'excellent'.
On his part, the French minister conveyed French President Francois Hollande's greetings to Papoulias.
 PASOK congress to run Friday to Sunday in FaliroPASOK president Evangelos Venizelos will give the opening speech at the party's congress on Friday at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in the southwestern suburb of Faliro, the party said in a statement on Thursday.
The congress will begin its work at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, when it will conclude its main work with a wrap-up speech by Venizelos at 7:00 p.m. followed by a vote. It will end officially on Sunday after the election of a central committee.
 PASOK spokesperson Gennimata on the party congressThe party congress is an opportunity to make it clear that PASOK has not been mutated and remains a democratic, patriotic, popular and socialist party, its spokesperson Fofi Gennimata said on Thursday.
Speaking to an Athens-based private television station, she disagreed with PASOK MP Costas Skandalidis on whether the party congress - which opens on March 3 - can decide on strategy issues, referring to the former minister's proposal to adopt a decision based on which PASOK will not vote for new measures. "Party congresses decide on identity issues," she underlined.
As regards PASOK's identity, she stated "we had to make a historical compromise to be able to keep the country in the eurozone," and referring to the issue raised by PASOK party cadres on whether the party should participate in the government she said that it is a "superficial and false" issue.
The PASOK spokesperson said that her party has to support the government and the question is not whether it will participate in it.
Gennimata noted that she disagrees with the "law and order" motto and clarified that this is not the way for the government to move forward, pointing out that the operative word is "consensus"
 OTA finances to be monitored by special agencyThe budgets of Local Government Bodies (OTA) will be placed under the microscope of a monitoring agency following the signing of a relevant Joint Ministerial Decision (KYA) by the ministers of finance and interior, it was announced on Thursday.
According to the decision signed, if the budget targets are not met, OTA will be subjected to a reform programme including the implementation of corrective measures, such as, spending cuts affecting personnel salaries, investments and operating costs.
Municipalities will have to submit five-year and annual planning that will be checked on a monthly basis. According to the ministerial decision, municipalities that do not meet the budget targets for six months will be automatically placed on reform programme.
 Education Minister on 'Athena' university restructure plan"We want to link the country's university map with the country's growth map," Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos said Thursday, speaking on the "Athena" university restructure plan at the conference "Education and Innovation in the 21st century" organised by the Economist , Microsoft Hellas and the British Council at the Megaron-Athens Concert Hall.
The minister referred to "anarchic policies" that were mostly "based on guilds" and which led to the increase of the number of university schools from nearly 300 in the 1990s decade to more than 500 in 2013, and noted that the local communities' attitude must change despite the fact that it is difficult.
Moreover he characterised as a 'horizontal priority' for all his ministry's practices, the evaluation of the structures and procedures as well as of the staff. Regarding the evaluation of school teachers, Arvanitopoulos said that it does not aim to punish but to pinpoint weaknesses and give incentives to teachers to continue improving themselves.
Finally the minister announced that within the next month a draft law will be tabled in parliament on the foreign language education abroad (bilingual schools for people of Greek origin).
 Greece-Canada Youth Mobility Agreement in forceThe Youth Mobility Agreement between Greece and Canada has entered into force as of 1 February, the Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday. The Agreement was signed during Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Greece, in May 2011, and was ratified by the Hellenic Parliament on 31 October 2012.
This pioneering Agreement provides for simplified procedures so that young Greek and Canadian citizens, between 18 and 35, may have the opportunity to travel, reside and work in each other's countries for up to twelve months, under the condition that they satisfy one of the following three prerequisites:
(a) They are graduates of post-secondary or tertiary education institutions and want to gain work experience, with a predetermined employment contract.
(b) They are students at post-secondary or tertiary education institutions and want to do a predetermined internship.
(c) They want to travel for a long vacation with the option of working temporarily to supplement their funds.
As Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and his Canadian counterpart John Baird stressed at their meeting on Wednesday in Ottawa, this Agreement presents the youth of both countries with an opportunity, and, in that sense, is an investment in the future.
Avramopoulos was in Canada for events marking the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Interested Greek citizens may consult the website of the Canadian Embassy in Athens, while Canadian citizens may consult the website of the Greek Embassy in Ottawa. The necessary prerequisites and related documents will also be uploaded on the websites of the respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
On the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Greece and Canada, this Agreement adds to a series of positive and tangible results of their excellent, dynamic, multifaceted cooperation, based on shared values and principles promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, progress and prosperity. Greece and Canada are also solidly bridged by a thriving community of Canadians of Greek origin. Our hope is that the young people who benefit from this Agreement will further enrich these bilateral relations and people-to-people ties, the Ministry announcement said.
 Gov't spokesman calls press stoppage "petty politics"The decision by the Athens Journalists' Union (ESIEA) to call a work stoppage on Monday prompted government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou to charge the union with "petty political expediencies" on Thursday.
The largest press union in Greece (ESIEA) said it called the stoppage in all media between 10:00 a.m. and 17:00 p.m. to enable its members to attend an extraordinary general assembly meeting.
Kedikoglou said the decision confirms the prime minister's statement in Parliament two days ago, when he said that the efforts made by the country and the Greek people have become the target of a "national sabotage".
After the news blackout imposed "by the so-called promoters of truth" during last week's visit to Greece byFrench President Francois Hollande, "now they call a media-wide work-stoppage to be held in Athens on Monday to coincide with the signing of important agreements for the country by the prime minister during his visit to Turkey," Kedikoglou said.
 Investigation committee given names of Lagarde list's 49 biggest depositorsThe Parliamentary Investigation Committee looking into possible penal charges against former finance minister George?Papaconstantinou?for his involvement and handling of the so-called 'Lagarde list' affair, was on Thursday handed a list containing the names of 49 depositors - taken from the Lagarde list, by witness Panagiotis Mantouvalos.
Mantouvalos is an employee with the Financial and Economic Crime Unit (SDOE) and has been control handler of the Lagarde list.
According to reliable reports, the 49 are the biggest depositors in the list, with funds ranging from three to 550 million euros in bank accounts with the Geneva HSBC, and have been called to appear before SDOE for tax inspection. ?
 Amendment tabled in Parliament to facilitate transit trade in GreeceAn amendment tabled in Parliament by the Ministry of Finance is envisaged to make things easier for foreign companies importing goods in Greece with the purpose of re-exporting them to EU or third countries, it was announced on Thursday.
The amendment provides that value added tax (VAT) will not be paid for the imported goods. Instead, it will be certified and "monitored" until the specific products reach their destination after transiting through Greece. A similar practice is into effect in other countries that are transit trade hubs, such as France and Holland.
During import, the VAT will not be collected by the customs' authorities provided that it will be recorded on the importer's periodic VAT statement and if certain additional preconditions are present.
Specifically, the importer should not be based in Greece or be subject to the taxation. The annual statistical value of imports should be 300 million euros at least, except in the first five years of the inclusion in the VAT suspension regime when their value will have to be no less than 120 million euros annually. In addition, over 90 pct of the value of the imported goods will have to be exported on a annual basis.
A State General Accounting Office report underlined that "the amendment attempts to make the country a transit trade hub serving as an entry gate for goods originating from third countries, taking under consideration its favourable geographic location, which in the present economic circumstances is expected to have a positive impact on employment, entrepreneurship and economic growth."
For the record, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will be present in the signing of an agreement on Friday between Cosco, Hewlett Packard and TRAINOSE for the transport of Hewlett Packard products from the port of Piraeus to European markets.
 New shipping register platform reduces bureaucracyA new shipping register using online services and reducing bureaucracy was presented on board the Liberty ship in Piraeaus on Thursday by Shipping Minister Costis Moussouroulis in the presence of Association of Greek Shipowners head Theodoros Veniamis.
As of today, online services at niologio.hcg.gr have reduced the required 34 signatures (from three ministries) and 5-6 months' time for registration to 9 signatures and no more than 10 days following publication in the Government Gazette. A special one-stop service at the Shipping Ministry will receive and manage applications, while other services are simplified, with the collaboration of the Finance Ministry as of April to improve the time required to go through customs procedures.
"The purpose is to introduce measures that support the competitiveness of Greek shipping," Moussouroulis said, and reduce obstacles "like the bureaucracy, which under current competition is not friendly to shipping business."
Veniamis called for dialogue with seamen, the National Seamen's Union (PNO), officers and all involved in this effort. "If there are 100 applications for a Greek flag registration tomorrow, could we deal with that?" he asked. While economic conditions were difficult globally, he expressed optimism about Greek shipping.
The Greek merchant marine is the 7th largest in the world in terms of transport capacity, according to IHS Fairplay World Shipping Encyclopedia for 2012. Data from the Greek Shipping Co-operation Committee said ships sailing under a Greek flag had dropped from 980 in 2008 to 862 in 2012, while 718 shipping companies had branches in Greece. It added that 14 billion euros in foreign currency came to Greece in 2011, over 15.4 billion in 2010.
Meanwhile, during a meeting on the same day, representatives of the seamen's pension fund (NAT) called for the retraction of the omnibus bill on restructuring the Shipping Ministry, because they said it would reduce the number of pensioners and the fund's revenues.
 Development Minister meets with bankers on arrangement of debts of over-indebted householdsThe government's negotiations with the European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Troika of Greece's international lenders on a bill for the settlement of the debts of over-indebted households and consumers, with the aim of tabling the new draft law in parliament by the end of March, it arose from a meeting late Wednesday between Development and Competitiveness Minister Costis Hatzidakis and representatives of the Association of Greek Banks.
The bankers were told that a way was being sought for arrangement of the debts in such a way that would not have repercussions on the banks' capital adequacy and would not require further funding beyond the money earmarked for the banks' recapitalisation.
Ministry sources told AMNA that "we have no meeting with the Troika, adding that "we are not holding this discussion in order to fail; the most possible scenario is that we will find a solution".
The sources said that the contacts with the banking association were continuing in order to establish an argumentation that will facilitate the positions of the Greek side and boost its negotiating tactic.
In essence, the Greek side is trying to create a "defense line" against the Troika's objections, in order to reach a compromise that will not burden the banks, the same sources added.
The two sides further discussed boosting the liquidity of the market and funding issues.
 New Thriasio-Ikonio cargo railway line inauguratedA railway track connecting Thriasio logistics hub with the Ikonio container terminal near the port of Piraeus was inaugurated on Thursday at Cosco's cargo terminal.
The 17km-long cargo line comprising 10 tunnels and 10 bridges is of major importance for the country, Development and Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis said.
He underlined that the project constitutes the basis of the agreement between Cosco, Hewlett Packard electronics and TRAINOSE, a trilateral cooperation agreement that will be signed on Friday in the presence of the prime minister.
"Such agreements prove that Greece is not giving up, is moving ahead and will soon be on the road to recovery and economic growth," Hatzidakis said.
On his part, Shipping Minister Costis Moussouroulis said that the port of Piraeus was offered a great opportunity for further development.
Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT) CEO Captain Fu Cheng Qiu underlined that Cosco is convinced that the project will benefit Greece.
The 143-million-euro project will considerably reduce travel time for cargo vessels originating from Asia and the Mediterranean that had to reach major ports in northern Europe.
 Greek state has repaid 2.3 bln euros in overdue debt to private sectorThe Greek state has repaid overdue debt to the private sector worth 2.3 billion euros so far, of which 1.3 billion euros in February, Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said on Thursday.
In a statement, the Greek minister said that repayment of the state's debt to the private sector was a priority for the government towards boosting liquidity in the real economy.
The Greek government has begun repaying its debts from December 2012 and has completed the disbursement of 2.3 billion euros so far, while the finance ministry is currently evaluating debt worth 1.4 billion euros which is expected to be disbursed by the end of March.
 Hellenic Telecoms says net profit 476.4 mln euros in 2012Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) on Thursday said its net profits totaled 476.4 million euros in 2012, from 119.7 million euros in 2011, while turnover fell 7.1 pct to 4.68 billion euros.
OTE said its losses dropped 43.3 pct in the fourth quarter of 2012 to 43.7 million euros, from 77.1 million euros in the same period in 2011 and turnover dropped 9.1 pct to 1.132 billion euros.
The group reported stable financial operating flows, increased net profits and a 1.0 billion euros reduction of its borrowing last year. In the 12-month period last year operating cash flow were stable at 1.3 billion euros, net borrowing fell by 1.0 billion euros and EBITDA margin grew to 35.4 pct, up 100 percentage points. Adjusted net profits rose 16 pct to 364 million euros in 2012, from 312.9 million euros in 2011.
Commenting on the results, OTE's chairman and chief executive Mihalis Chamaz, said the group achieved its targets earlier than planned. "We maintained our operating cash flow healthy despite lower revenues, we liquidated non-core assets through a dynamic refinance plan, we boosted our finances and expanded the horizon of repaying our debts. We also cut our cost base through a voluntary retirement programme which included more than 1,500 workers in the fixed-telephony arm of the group and we are close to completing a transformation plan of the group," Chamaz said. "We are determined to maintain our position, our profitability and strengthen our financial structure," he added.
OTE said its mobile telephony customers totaled 20.4 million euros last year, with Cosmote Group significantly raising its EBITDA margin in the fourth quarter of 2012. Cosmote's customer base in Greece was 7.7 million, down 2.4 pct and said that almost half of mobile phones sold in the fourth quarter of 2012 were smartphones.
In Albania, Cosmote's subsidiary reported a 5.9 pct decline in revenues last year, after a 21.1 pct drop recorded in 2011. In Romania, Romtelecom reported an 8.0 pct decline in revenues in the fourth quarter, for an annual decline of 5.4 pct, after an 8.6 pct drop in 2011.
 Hellenic Petroleum reports lower 2012 profitsHellenic Petroleum on Thursday reported a 26 pct drop in net profits to 84 million euros last year, from 114 million euros in 2011, and attributed this development to a sharp decline in fuel consumption as a result of a deep economic recession in the country.
The Group, however, said that comparable results (excluding external factors such as currency rates) were up 70 pct to 232 million euros in 2012, from 137 million in 2011. Exports accounted for more than 50 pct of total sales in December 2012. Hellenic Petroleum said its management will seek shareholders' approval to a plan to pay a 0.15 euros per share dividend to shareholders.
Yiannis Kostopoulos, chief executive of the Group, commenting on the results said that "high taxes, accounting for more than 60 pct of final price on fuel, unfair competition and a decline in the market pressured profit margins and fuel distribution companies' liquidity." The distribution and retail sectors in the country were facing a dead-end, he noted, adding that Hellenic Petroleum will focus on ways to fully exploit its upgraded refineries, further spending control, reduce leverage and successfully selling its equity stake in DEPA.
 Parliament postpones vote on Kavala Oil/Aegean Energy contractA voting procedure in Parliament on an amended contract between the Greek state and the operators of Kavala Oil and Aegean Energy has been postponed for next Tuesday, after the main opposition SYRIZA party and the Independent Greeks party jointly demanded a nominal vote on the issue.
In a debate in Parliament, the opposition parties urged the government to withdraw the draft law for ratifying the contract following developments in the relations between Kavala Oil and Aegean Energy.
Environment Minister Evangelos Livieratos insisted that the draft law should be voted and stressed that the amended contract was designed to offer more benefits to the public sector.
 Unregistered workers cost companies over 11.8 million in finesFines levied on companies for unregistered employees in 2012 reached 11,882,500 euros, according to data provided in a letter by Labour Minister Ioannis Vroutsis to Parliament on Thursday.
The amount, which does not include fines for labour law transgressions per se, resulted from 27,599 inspections on a national level from January to November 2012 and found 1,557 cases of uninsured workers. Twenty-three companies came under a law that allows the temporary shutdown of operations from five to ten days for employing migrant workers illegally while another 238 cases found transgressions of insurance laws.
The inspections were carried out by the ministry's labour inspection and social insurance sections.
The minister, responding to a question by PASOK MP Vassilis Kegeroglou, also said that an online programme to follow up inspections was nearing completion and would link agencies such as the Social Security Foundation (IKA), the Labour Ministry services, and the Financial Crimes Unit (SDOE) of the Finance Ministry.
 Farmers to receive refund for special fuel taxThe first tranche of the refund of the special consumption tax on petroleum products, totalling 81.3 million euros, was deposited into the accounts of entitled farmers on Thursday and will be available as of Friday.
Next week, the state will pay out cotton subsidies to farmers, amounting to 200 million euros.
"In a matter of few days we are boosting liquidity in the agricultural sector with nearly 300 million euros," said Agricultural Development Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris, adding that "the government and the ministry will keep up their efforts to satisfy farmers' demands and assist them in every way with their production work."
 Greek PPI unchanged in JanuaryThe producer's price composite index in the industrial sector (measuring both the domestic and external markets) recorded a zero change in January this year, compared with the same month in 2012, after a 7.5 pct increase recorded in January 2012, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics service, in a report, attributed this development to a zero change in the domestic producer's price index and a 0.1 pct increase in the external market index.
The producer's price index rose 0.7 pct in January 2013 from December 2012, after a 2.7 pct increase recorded in the corresponding period last year.
 Retail sales down 8.5 pct in DecGreek retail sales volume dropped 8.5 pct in December 2012, for an average decline of 12.2 pct last year, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday. The statistics service, in a report said that the volume of sales fell in all categories of shops in December, with supermarkets recording a 5.0 pct decline, department stores a 0.9 pct fall, fuel/lubricants -9.3 pct, food/beverage/tobacco -7.5 pct, pharmaceutical/cosmetics -20 pct, clothing/footwear -12.7 pct, furniture/home appliances -1.5 pct and bookstores -8.4 pct.
On average, supermarkets recorded a 7.9 pct fall in 2012, department stores dropped by 4.7 pct, fuel/lubricants fell by 15 pct, food/beverage/tobacco fell by 13.6 pct, pharmaceutical/cosmetics dropped 12.7 pct, clothing/footwear fell 20.6 pct, furniture/home appliances fell 16.3 pct and bookstores dropped 12.1 pct.
The statistics service said the retail sales volume index (turnover in fixed prices) -including fuel- fell 8.5 pct in December compared with December 2011, while the turnover index (current prices) -including fuel- fell 8.0 pct in the same period.
 Nine wine producers join overseas promotion programmeNine more producers joined the Greek wine promotion programme to non-EU countries worth 800,000 euros and administered by the Agricultural Development Ministry, Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris said on Thursday.
Producers will be promoting their Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) wines to countries including the United States, Canada, Russia, China and Switzerland, an EU trading partner.
The programme is in its fourth year and its budget, from 2012 to the present, amounts to 36.3 million euros. It has involved 57 companies (both private and cooperatives).
"The programme will continue, even stronger, the next five years, from 2014 to 2018," said Tsaftaris, "as it is included in the measures of the national support programme to be submitted by our country to the European Commission."
 Cretan wines top in Germans' preferencesGermans gave the gold medal to the wines of Crete, which received 21 substantial awards for quality and presentation at the competition Greek Wine Awards 2013 held 9 and 10 February in Bad Durkheim in Germany.
In an event held at a Hania winery, it was pointed out that the Cretan wines are high in the wine lovers' preferences as they combine quality and competitive prices.
The president of Crete's winemakers Nikos Miliarakis appeared satisfied with the Cretan presence in the competition. "It is a fact that in recent years the Cretan vineyard has made very important steps. However, this is something that must be promoted abroad in order that more people will learn about it".
The medals awarded to Cretan wines were 10 for red wines, nine for white wines and one for a rose wine.
 Winter sales season turnover down 20-41 pct, reportGreek commerce suffered the lowest turnover of the last few years during this year's winter sales season, with a drop of 20-41 pct, the National Confederation of Greek Commerce said on Thursday.
In a report, the Confederation warned over the outlook of the domestic commerce market as business closures continued rising both in large cities and around the country's regions. An 80 pct of businessmen in the commerce sector said their sales fell during this year's winter sales season, compared with 2012, with a 27 pct of asked enterprises reporting a decline of 21-30 pct and a 20 pct of asked enterprises reporting a decline of more than 41 pct.
Vasilis Korkidis, president of the Confederation, said it was clear that the winter sales season left the country's commerce in hibernation as the results significantly lagged behind expectations. "Greek commerce said goodbye to the winter sales and welcomed the new month with special offers in its effort to manage a wave of tax burdens, lower consumers' incomes and a general negative climate in the country," Korkidis said.
The report noted that an average retail receipt during the sales season was worth 44.3 euros, down almost 50 pct from the average retail receipt of 2011.
 Greek stocks continue moving higherGreek stocks continued moving higher in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, pushing the composite index of the market above the 1,000 level again. The index rose 0.95 pct to end at 1,007.99 points, off the day's highs of 1,019.34 points. The index ended February with a net gain of 2.15 pct. Turnover remained a low 58.729 million euros.
The Big Cap index rose 0.90 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 0.43 pct lower. The Health (6.95 pct), Banks (2.93 pct) and Food (2.23 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Travel (3.16 pct), Personal Products (2.42 pct) and Commerce (1.50 pct) suffered losses.
National Bank (5.32 pct), Terna Energy (3.54 pct) and Frigoglass (3.36 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Eurobank (5.64 pct), OPAP (3.83 pct) and Jumbo (3.18 pct) were top losers. Broadly, advancers led decliners by 84 to 71 with another 27 issues unchanged. Dias Fish Farms (19.80 pct), ANEK (19.17 pct) and Fieratex (18.95 pct) were top gainers, while Alsinco (19.12 pct), Varvaresos (18.60 pct) and Kordellos Bros (14.20 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -0.01%
Personal & Household: -2.42%
Raw Materials: -0.91%
Travel & Leisure: -3.16%
Food & Beverages: +2.23%
Financial Services: +1.28%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Coca Cola 3E, OPAP, OTE and National Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 1.02
Public Power Corp (PPC): 7.55
HBC Coca Cola: 20.90
Hellenic Petroleum: 8.48
National Bank of Greece: 0.99
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.39
Bank of Piraeus: 0.27
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank to 9.43 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, with the Greek bond yielding 10.88 pct and the German Bund 1.45 pct. Turnover was a thin 7.0 million euros, of which 6.0 million euros were sell orders and the remaining 1.0 million was a buy order.
In interbank markets, interest rates were mixed to lower. The 12-month rate eased to 0.55 pct, the nine-month rate eased to 0.44 pct, the six-month rate was 0.33 pct, the three-month rate was 0.20 pct and the one-month rate was 0.11 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 0.16 pct in the Athens Derivatives xchange on Thursday, with turnover rising to 21.420 million euros.
Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 7,923 contracts worth 13.442 million euros, with 33,463 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 32,794 contracts worth 7.978 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Alpha Bank's contracts (10,624), followed by National Bank (8,894), Piraeus Bank (2,305), OTE (3,988), PPC (1,431), OPAP (1,356), Cyprus Bank (660), MIG (472), Cyprus Popular Bank (229), Coca Cola Hellenic (182), Mytilineos (214), Motor Oil (111), Ellaktor (272), GEK (348), Eurobank (303), Intralot (560) and Sidenor (280).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.332
Pound sterling 0.875
Danish kroner 7.567
Swedish kroner 8.574
Japanese yen 122.89
Swiss franc 1.239
Norwegian kroner 7.599
Canadian dollar 1.366
Australian dollar 1.300
 Three arrests in 650-million-euro bogus remittance scam on the island of KalymnosThree individuals were arrested for attempted bank fraud when they allegedly tried to claim a bogus remittance of over half a million euros, it was announced on Thursday.
The three suspects, a 63-year-old German, a 60-year-old Romanian and a 61-year-old local man, were arrested on the southeast Aegean island of Kalymnos on Wednesday after visiting a local bank branch to claim the money. On Feb. 26, they had visited the bank again to be informed on the fate of the remittance.
Authorities had been notified earlier by a bank representative, who had noticed the fake remittance request credited to the 63-year-old's bank account. The credit request concerned a bogus international remittance from a foreign bank amounting to 650 million euros.
 Four tenders for Attica waste landfills completedThe bidding process on management of refuse landfills in the Attica region and islands worth 21.8 million euros were completed in four of six tenders, it was announced Thursday.
The competitions are overseen by the Attica municipalities union (EDSNA) and involve the rehabilitation of 11 uncontrolled landfills with contributions from the EU's National Strategic Reference Framework funds (ESPA).
A speedy completion of the process will help Greece avoid stiff penalties of 71,193 euros daily for delaying these projects, especially after the European Commission decided last Thursday to take Greece to court over breach of EU household waste legislation.
 Road accidents causing fatalities or injuries 17.5 down in DecemberRoad traffic accidents causing deaths and injuries fell by 17.5 percent in December 2012 relative to the same month in 2011, the Greek statistical authority ELSTAT reported on Thursday.
The total number of such accidents in the month came to 927 and resulted in 72 deaths (a 21.7 percent decline relative to 2011), 95 serious injuries (28 percent decline relative to 2011) and 1,063 lighter injuries (12.7 percent decline relative to 2011).
 Fireplace particles a serious health risk in major Greek citiesThe small airborne particles produced by fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, based on their size and chemical composition, constitute a serious health risk, as dangerous as car engine emissions.
Month-long scientific measurements outlined the extent of air pollution in Athens and other major Greek cities when wood-burning is combined with weather conditions such as low temperatures and lack of wind, according to an experiment conducted within the framework of the NSRF-THALIS programme.
The data was presented by scientists at a press conference at the Demokritos National Centre for Scientific Research on Thursday who expressed the hope that this winter's weather conditions will not be repeated in the near future.
 Fair on FridayFair weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday. Winds 2-6 beaufort. Temperatures between 3C and 16C. Fair in Athens with northerly 3-4 beaufort winds and temperatures between 3C and 15C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures between 3C and 13C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: "The storm has erupted.
DIMOKRATIA: "Life sentence to the 'flying doctor' (Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, former Thessaloniki mayor and well-known medal-winning sprinter in the 1970's, in trial on embezzlement scandal in the municipality)".
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: "Greek trilogy".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Troika (EC, ECB, IMF) experts to government: You are incompetent and inadequate".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "New cuts to auxiliary pensions in two installments".
ESTIA: "Sabotage of the economy".
ETHNOS: "Retirement at the age of 60 for 300,000 insured".
IMERISSIA: "Tax bureaus 'paralyzed'."
KATHIMERINI: "Life sentence handed down to Papageorgopoulos".
LOGOS: "Enough with tax evasion".
NAFTEMPORIKI: "Our lenders certify tax evasion without end".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Axe to Health services and increase in the contributions by the insured".
TA NEA: "Outcry against Chryssi Avghi (Golden Dawn, ultra-right party)".
VRADYNI: "New cuts to auxiliary pensions".
6 DAYS: "Shocking report on tax evasion".
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