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Greece’s central banker protests, says minister is meddling

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s central bank chief asked Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to intervene on Tuesday after a cabinet minister phoned him to tell him how to do his job and then allegedly leaked the conversation to the press.

In a statement, bank chief Yiannis Stournaras deplored the deputy minister’s “unheard-of” attempt to influence the central bank, and urged Tsipras to protect the central bank’s independence.

“The preposterous attempt … to interfere with how the administration of the Bank of Greece and I personally perform our duties is a gross institutional transgression,” he said.

The Bank of Greece governor — a finance minister in Greece’s former conservative government — has long had a testy relationship with Tsipras’ left-wing administration, and is frequently targeted by pro-government media.

On Monday, Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis announced on social media that he phoned Stournaras over an investigation into a loan from a commercial bank under the central bank’s jurisdiction that Polakis had received. The bank that issued the loan said it had followed correct procedures.

The deputy health minister, a colorful figure who has been photographed breaking Greek laws by smoking in indoor public areas, said he urged Stournaras to also investigate loans allegedly taken out by opposition politicians.

A 450-word, verbatim account of the conversation was subsequently published by a pro-government website, and Stournaras accused Polakis of secretly recording the call and then leaking it.

“It is historically unprecedented … for a government minister to record a private telephone conversation and to immediately leak, selectively, falsified parts of such a conversation to a media outlet friendly to the government,” Stournaras said.

Polakis denied recording the call, but the allegation prompted a senior Athens prosecutor to order an investigation.

Polakis also announced that he was giving the central bank chief a three-day deadline to investigate the alleged loans taken by opposition politicians. According to the leaked transcript of the phone call, which Polakis said was an accurate rendition, he told Stournaras:

“When you have checked my loan check the others too, otherwise I will come by and won’t leave until you order the investigation.”

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