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Greek prosecutor charges Lavrentiadis with fraud

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A Greek prosecutor filed felony charges against prominent Greek banker Lavrentis Lavrentiadis over a financial scandal that has led to the demise of small lender Proton Bank, court officials said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Lavrentiadis, a high-flying businessman who started from the chemicals industry to rapidly expand into banking and media, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in what is seen as one of Greeces biggest financial scandals in years.

Economic crimes prosecutor Grigoris Peponis formally charged Lavrentiadis, 39, with being part of a criminal gang that embezzled Proton funds and defrauded the government, a court official said on condition of anonymity.

If convicted, he could face life in prison. Another 27 suspected associates, including Proton executives, face convictions adding up to life imprisonment.

"A second prosecutor has banned Lavrentiadis and another five accused from leaving the country," the court official added.

The charges are related to accusations that Proton issued more than 600 million euros of bad loans to companies he owned or had connections with, as reported by Greeces central bank in an audit last year.

Protons management also "developed continuous, intense and to a great extent criminal activity which led to the deception of depositors," using "unusually high interest as a bait" to draw savers in, the audit said.

The Bank of Greece activated in October an EU/IMF-sponsored rescue fund to save Proton, effectively nationalising the lender.

Proton was the first lender to fall under the Financial Stability Fund (FSF), a safety net set up by Greece and its international lenders for banks that need to recapitalise as a result of the countrys debt crisis.

Prosecutor Peponis also ordered a probe into possible criminal responsibility on the part of regulating and supervising authorities, the court official said.

Protons lending spree peaked as most Greek banks stopped credit to firms and households in a desperate attempt to save cash amid the countrys debt crisis, which shook the euro.
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