Ανταποκριση από Σπετσες.
Οι πάμπλουτοι στην Ελλάδα διατηρουν πολυτελή τρόπο ζωής και χαμηλό προφίλ
Από το ξέσπασμα της ελληνικής κρίσης, η πλουσια τάξη της χώρας ήταν αξιοσημείωτη, κυρίως δια της απουσίας της
Ολιγάρχες, οι οποίοι έκαναν τεράστιες περιουσίες με τις βιομηχανίες πετρελαίου, φυσικού αερίου, των κατασκευών και των τραπεζών, καθώς και τα μέσα ενημέρωσης, ειναι παράξενα σιωπηλοι με ενα τόσο χαμηλό προφίλ όσο το δυνατόν γινεται.
Έλληνες εφοπλιστές, οι οποίοι έχουν αποκτησει τα κέρδη τους αφορολόγητα και που ελέγχουν τουλάχιστον το 15% του φορτίου του παγκόσμιου εμποριου, παρέμειναν και χαμηλών τόνων. Με υπεράκτιο πλούτο και μεγάλη μυστικότητα, οι περίπου 900 οικογένειες που διοικούν τον τομέα αυτό,έχουν τον μεγαλύτερο στόλο στον κόσμο.
Ως η μεγαλύτερη πηγή ξένου συναλλάγματος της Αθήνας μετά τον τουρισμό, η ναυτιλια εγγραφει περισσότερα από $ 175bn (£ 112bn) σε αφορολόγητα κέρδη κατά την τελευταία δεκαετία. Το Χρέος στην Ελλάδα ανέρχεται σήμερα σε € 280bn.
Μια εποχη που οι κοινοι Έλληνες έχουν ριχτεί σε όλο και μεγαλύτερη φτώχεια από τις περικοπες μισθών και των συντάξεων και μια φαινομενικά ατελείωτη σειρά από νέους και υψηλότερους φόρους,οι πλούσιοι συμπατριώτες τους ήταν απασχολημένοι είτε στελνοντας τα χρήματά τους από την Ελλάδα ή αρπαζοντας μια προνομιακη ακίνητη περιουσία στο εξωτερικό.
Greece's super-rich maintain lavish lifestyles and low profiles
Since the outbreak of the Greek crisis, the country's moneyed class has been notable mainly by its absence
Scudding across the turquoise waters of the Argo-Saronic gulf, Ioannis Arnaoutis singled out the pearl-white sands of a little bay. The shore glistened in the midday sun. "It was especially imported from Asia by the owner of the mansion above the bay," said the boatman, one hand on the steering wheel of his water taxi, the other pointing in the direction of the cove. "It's a private beach, which is why there is only one umbrella on it."
Nearly three years into their country's worst crisis in modern times, life goes on as normal for Greece's super-rich. As the sun sets, oligarchs, shipowners, singers and media stars gather at the Poseidonion hotel on the island of Spetses opposite the little bay. They tuck into a menu that includes pasticcio laced with foie gras. Among them is a middle-aged man in a T-shirt proclaiming: "More is less".
Three days before Greeks cast their ballots in a make-or-break election, their country could not be more divided. Here there is no talk of the pain of crisis – the only topic of conversation elsewhere in Greek society. The destitution and despair of Athens is a world away – and for many quite clearly it is best kept that way.
"Greeks brought this crisis upon themselves," said a London-based shipowner upholding the sector's vow of silence by insisting on anonymity. "They allowed crooks and corruption to prosper."
Almost 100 years after it was built by a tobacco tycoon, the elegant Poseidonion remains the favourite playground for Athenian high society. The former King Constantine, who was schooled on the island, is a frequent visitor. Tonight, as the crowd sits on its terrace sipping cocktails, staff with long-handled brooms clean the bows of their mega-yachts moored in front of the hotel. A tiny pony takes their children – all guarded by nannies – around the plaza. While locals fret that Spetses, already known as the "new Monaco", is at risk of becoming a "club for the rich" there are also obvious payoffs.
Christina Ioannidis, who runs a high-end clothes shop on the island, says one of them is that the crisis has not affected her at all. "If truth be told, business couldn't be better," she says, knocking on wood. "I've had to employ an assistant all year round because there's such demand, even in winter."
Pumping money into the economy of Spetses – or the islands from which they hail – is a far cry from the world of philanthropy with which Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos and other fabled shipowners were associated. Known as the Golden Greeks, both men left large bequests in the form of charitable foundations. The Niarchos foundation recently gave €100m (£81m) to help civic society fight the crisis's many ills, with the aid including food vouchers for the children of the new poor and support for organisations dealing with the homeless.
But since the outbreak of Greece's runaway debt crisis, its moneyed class has been notable more by its absence than presence. Oligarchs, who made vast fortunes cornering the oil, gas, construction and banking industries, as well as the media, have been eerily silent – often going out of their way to be as low a profile as possible.
Greek shipowners, who have gained from their profits being tax-free and who control at least 15% of the world's merchant freight, have also remained low-key. With their wealth offshore and highly secretive, the estimated 900 families who run the sector have the largest fleet in the world. As Athens' biggest foreign currency earner after tourism, the industry remitted more than $175bn (£112bn) to the country in untaxed earnings over the past decade. Greece's debt currently stands at €280bn.
As ordinary Greeks have been thrown into ever greater poverty by wage and pension cuts and a seemingly endless array of new and higher taxes, their wealthy compatriots have been busy either whisking their money out of Greece or snapping up prime real estate abroad.
An estimated €8bn flowed out of the Greek banking system in May as speculation over the country's possible exit from the eurozone mounted. Another €4bn was reported to have been withdrawn in the last two weeks – on top of an estimated €20bn since the start of the crisis in late 2009. Stories of rich Greeks sending their wives and best friends on "shopping missions" to remove secret hoards kept in banks in Switzerland and Cyprus are legion.
"At a time when Greece, more than ever, needs symbolic gestures from its rich citizens, they seem to be doing practically nothing to help their country," said Theodore Pelagidis, professor of economic analysis at Piraeus University.
"We need to see cool-headed entrepreneurs not only complain about bureaucracy and corruption but do something for Greece."
In an atmosphere that has become increasingly aggravated between the haves and have-nots, displays of wealth are clearly being downplayed, especially in Athens, where the majority of the 11 million-strong Greek population lives and which has been worst hit by the belt-tightening.
Over the past year, Pelagidis said a growing number of very wealthy Greeks had even taken to inviting academics, like himself, to their mansions, in the capital's leafy northern suburbs, to be apprised of the situation. Lectures in particular demand were political, economic and historical in nature.
"They are so cut off they know nothing," he said. "I'm not sure whether it's a case of the spoiled and uneducated rich trying to overcome their remorse, or a case of them simply wanting to fight their boredom but after going once I decided never to go again. I came away thinking it was like a form of psychotherapy for them."
What is sure, however, is that the super-rich appear to have come up with contingency plans to disperse their wealth as the crisis deepens. In recent months, acting on a trend that began soon after Greece's debt woes erupted, a growing number have been snapping up property in London. Increasingly, many have made their way to the door of 88 (London) Ltd, a high-end property brokerage run by Panos Koutsogiannakis. Suddenly the Greek Australian has found himself investing in properties worth £5m and more.
"We're talking about blue-chip areas such as Mayfair," said Koutsogiannakis, who frequently flies to Athens to meet clients. "Shippers, bankers, entrepreneurs all want to buy properties with many now looking at fantastic office blocks in central London. The demand is just huge."
Greece's wealthy have long cited their country's crushing bureaucracy as preventing them from investing in their homeland.
But it has not been lost on ordinary Greeks that those who benefited most from the crooked system that has brought Greece to its knees – starting with the construction firms that had contracts with the state – are now leading the exodus as the ship sinks.
The white sands of beaches that boatmen such as Arnaoutis like to point out have fast begun to symbolise everything that is rotten with Greece.
"I hope our country changes," he says, "because if it doesn't there will be blood in our midst."