Deputy minister's resignation jolts coalition's plans

The coalition government suffered a fresh blow on Tuesday, as it prepares for this week’s European Union leaders’ summit, when Deputy Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Vernikos resigned after being linked to an offshore firm. The new administration has run into a series of problems, including an eye operation for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the illness of would-be finance minister Vassilis Rapanos. Vernikos’s departure added to the recent confusion and prompted Samaras to raise the issue with his coalition partners, PASOK’s Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left’s Fotis Kouvelis.

Vernikos, a businessman who was one of Venizelos’s choices for the Cabinet, quit after SYRIZA pointed out that he was breaking a 2010 law by taking up a ministerial position. In its statement, SYRIZA said that it had “nothing personal” against Vernikos but highlighted that the law prohibits politicians from being involved in offshore companies.

The leftist party said Vernikos had links to a company in the Marshall Islands. Speaking to Skai TV after his resignation, Vernikos said he was not aware that his offshore business dealings were incompatible with holding a cabinet position. The incident overshadowed preparations for the EU summit tomorrow and Friday. Samaras, who spoke to several EU leaders on the phone on Tuesday, is preparing a letter for his counterparts.

The note will be delivered by President Karolos Papoulias, who will represent Greece at the talks. Kathimerini understands Samaras will not make reference to specific changes to the bailout terms but will point out that the deepening recession and rising unemployment mean the program needs to be adjusted. Papoulias met yesterday with Finance Minister Giorgos Zannias, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis and Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras to be briefed on what to expect during talks in Brussels.

“Europe is taking steps but time may run out by the time it reaches its destination,” said Hatzidakis.

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