A miracle happened end of September. The Greek Orthodox Church was excluded from the capital controls and is allowed to withdraw up to 20,000 euro per month, when the rest of Greeks – people or business – are bound to strict restrictions.
We have always knew that Greece is a country of institutionalized discrepancies and inequalities. We have always knew as well that the Greek Orthodox Church is extremely powerful and above everybody else and it has to report only to Greek Orthodox God.
That’s probably why the atheist government of left-wing SYRIZA decided to exempt the Greek Orthodox Church from the capital controls – a money withdrawal restriction that has brought into his knees everyone else in Greece since end of June, whether natural person or businesses.
On September 25th, just a few days after the September 20th elections, one of the first obligations of Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos was apparently to issue a legislative decree exempting the Greek Orthodox Church from the capital controls. The decree was published on the Government Official Gazette on September 28th.
“Dioceses may withdraw up to €10,000 per month, while the Archdiocese in Athens can withdraw up to €20,000 euro per month.”
For the rest of mortal Greeks, the monthly withdrawal limit remains up to €1,680 a month.
The news that was revealed just yesterday, October 14th, triggered an outrage and a plethora of ironic comments. I suppose the faithful believers are still stunned and in shock.
The Church came under pressure and the Holy Synod, the executive arm of the Greek Orthodox Church issued a statement trying to justify the exemption. The measure “was designed to avert paralysis in charitable work,” the statement with the title “With reference to alleged preferential exemption of the Church of Greece form the capital controls” said. Further it clarified that the exemption applied only to Church institutions and not to clerics, who remained subject to the same restrictions as the rest of the population.
“The monthly limit was increased because there was difficulty in paying regular and emergency benefits to Greek and foreign needy persons and families,” the Holy Synod statement said.
Sarcastic remarks about “saintly cash dispensers” working “miracles” quickly spread on Greek social media but the Church said such criticism was “irresponsible.”
Also the Finance Ministry issued a statement saying that “international organizations and foreign charity groups were also entitled to the same exemptions.” The Finance Ministry has issued a press release on September 28th 2015, announcing the exemptions form the capital controls.
“Excluding from the capital controls restrictions are international organizations and foreign charities when the funds withdrawal is for humanitarian purposes. Similarly excluded are the Metropolises and the Archdiocese to take up to EUR 10,000 and EUR 20,000 per month respectively.”
The finance ministry had added another range of exemptions for facilities and organizations (charitable foreign institutions) and individuals (hospitalization abroad and accompanying persons, soldiers, students, conducting fundraising for sufferers from incurable diseases), charities, etc.
However, a source in the Greek Catholic Church told AFP on Wednesday that “it had asked the ministry for the privilege but without response.”
News portal News247gr commented on the issue:
“The Church is treated here as a “charity” and is excluded from the capital controls because of its charitable work. We consider that the preferential exception of the Church is not fully justified since humanitarian operations could be served also with alternative ways like the use of plastic money and transfers between bank accounts.”
Another weird point on the FinMin decision is the reference to “international organizations & charities”. According to capital controls, withdrawal from foreign bank accounts are not subject to restrictions and that’s why tourists, for example, have no problems to exceed ATM withdrawal limit of daily 60 euro.
“But maybe the international organizations & charities were included in the ministerial decision in order to justify the Church exemption,” one of the usual mean Greeks told me.
Fact is that suppliers and employees can be paid through bank transfers from account to account.
KTG would appreciate feedback from local and/or international charities on the issue of capital control restrictions and/or exemptions.