Greece uncovers tourism scam, looks for missing $15.8M

Greek police say a former tourism adviser colluded with at least two others to cash a forged check.

ATHENS, Greece — Three Greeks were arrested on suspicion of trying to defraud the national tourism board, police said Saturday, and the finance ministry is investigating a suspected $15.8 million hole in the state agency's books.

Tourism is one of cash-strapped Greece's few remaining moneymakers, and the Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT in Greek) is in charge of funding several promotion campaigns and subsidy programs for the industry.

A police statement said a former EOT adviser colluded with at least two accomplices to cash in a forged check of $194,400 made out to a hotel on the Aegean island of Syros. The three, arrested earlier this week, were put in pretrial detention after appearing before a prosecutor Friday.

"They are charged with forming and participating in a criminal organization," the statement said.

The tourism ministry said it was investigating why an EOT checkbook was handled by the 39-year old adviser who was not a career EOT official but rather an aide to the board's outgoing secretary general, who resigned last week.

Separately, the finance ministry appointed a team Thursday to investigate what the EOT's new secretary general has called "accounting irregularities" of $15.8 million in the EOT's books.

Cronyism, political meddling and lack of accountability are central causes for the endemic corruption that has bedeviled Greece, leading to fiscal profligacy, financial crisis and an international bailout in 2010.

Greece ranked last among the 27 European Union countries in a global corruption index compiled by anti-graft group Transparency International earlier this year.

The country's governing coalition, which took power in June, has pledged to crack down on corruption that infuriates citizens who have seen their wages cut and taxes increased as part of its $317 billion bailout.

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