Christiana Stilianidou 18 • 04 • 2019

Removal of the obligation to lift banking secrecy for the scrutiny of asset declarations

Christiana Stilianidou
Removal of the obligation to lift banking secrecy for the scrutiny of asset declarations
18 • 04 • 2019

Article 3B of Law 3213/2003 previously established that the lifting of banking, stock exchange, tax and professional secrecy was a mandatory condition for the scrutiny of asset declarations by the CIDA Committee.  Article 209 of Law 4635/2019 amended this article, adding the words “if necessary,” and thus transforming the previously mandatory removal of secrecy into merely a possibility that can be pursued ‘if necessary’, raising concerns for transparency and accountability.

The Committee of Parliament for the Investigation of Declarations of Assets (CIDA) of Article 3A of law 3213/2003 is a special body which verifies and scrutinises the declarations of assets of politicians and judicial officials.  It is Article 3B of Law 3213/2003 that defines the functions of the Committee, as well as the ways in which it can and should carry out the scrutiny of asset declarations.  

Article 3B of law 3213/2003 has previously been amended by Article 15 of law 4606/2019 (Government Gazette 57 A ‘/ 11-04-2019) which added the following phrase: “The harnessing of information collected through the lifting of banking, stock market, tax and professional secrecy is a precondition for the completion of any scrutiny procedure of the Committee’s competence.” This made the lifting of such secrecy mandatory in the scrutiny of asset declarations. The purpose of this provision was, among other things, to strengthen the credibility of the auditing, as well as to speed up the process (see this article as well as pages 56, 59, 61 of the parliamentary minutes). It is noted at this point that this provision was introduced for voting through a legislative amendment and was voted against by the then opposition party MPs of New Democracy and Golden Dawn (see page 68 of the parliamentary minutes), a fact which was later commented on by the then Government.

However, with this modification and the addition of the words “if necessary”: a) the removal of secrecy becomes merely possible, rather than mandatory; b) it creates a process where some asset declarations will ‘slip through the net’, whilst requiring a second level of decision making for who is to judge, and how, which statements necessitate the removal of secrecy; c) it undermines the very notion of asset declaration statements, particularly in regard to their purpose of showing the origin of the assets held; and d) it raises questions  about the purpose of the amendment. (see p. 40 of the minutes of the 24-10 sitting of Parliament and pp. 76-77, 87, of the minutes of the 23-10-2019 sitting of Parliament). 

According to Vouliwatch, “This provision undermines transparency and accountability in relation to the crucial issue of our MPs’ finances… and is a serious step backwards in terms of legislation”, as among other things it “weakens” the obligation to remove secrecy, and may have the effect, in at least some cases where it is not deemed necessary to remove said secrecy, of the Committee’s scrutiny being based on what is presented in the declaration rather than a truly mandatory scrutiny of the flow of assets of the person in question.

Where is the problem with the Rule of Law?

The obligation to submit asset declarations aims to enhance transparency and strengthen democracy, and is a key tool in preventing corruption. Through the submission of these declarations by those obliged to do so, and their scrutiny by the appropriate bodies, it can be determined what assets are held by those in positions of power, and where they came from, which enables corruption to be detected, prevented, or investigated, if necessary.

Article 15 of law 4606/2019 amended article 3B of law 3213/2003, making the lifting of banking secrecy mandatory in the scrutiny of asset declarations for those under the jurisdiction of the CIDA Committee (politicians, judicial officers etc.).

This obligation to remove secrecy and the harnessing of the information derived from it constituted another “tool” that could be said to strengthen the reliability and thoroughness of the scrutiny process.

However, just a few months later, Article 209 of law 4635/2019 replaced the mandatory lifting of secrecy with the possible lifting of secrecy, raising concerns that this legislative “regression” may affect transparency and accountability.

Christiana Stilianidou
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