June 3rd, 2011
03:55 AM GMT
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It has the makings of an economic tragedy of epic proportions.

As Brussels battles to prevent Greece from becoming the Eurozone’s first member to default, the country’s crisis is talk of the town among Greek communities thousands of miles from Athens.

One year after Greece received a $158 billion bail out from the International Monetary Fund, talks have started on potential second package.

Money is still pouring out of the country while authorities fret about a brain drain – factors that are having a surprising impact on London’s estimated 400,000-strong Greek population.

Over a game of backgammon at the capital’s ‘Byzantium café,’ Panayiotis Dimopoulos tells me Greece’s frightful finances have implications far beyond the borders of his homeland.

‘Everyone is worried about it,’ he says with a rather melancholy roll of the dice.

‘It’s not only me. Every Greek, every other European is worried about it. It’s an issue for more countries than just Greece.’

Financially, Greece is standing on shaky ground: the European Commission expects its debt to balloon to over 157% of gross domestic product this year while its economy is set to contract 3.5%.

What’s more: resistance to painful belt-tightening has thrown into question Greece’s ability to stop spending and to raise tax revenues. While economists in agree that Greece must make cuts soon, many Greeks in London are just as staunchly opposed to those austerity measures as their compatriots protesting near the Parthenon.

‘It’s not fair to take the money from these people,’ says Dimopoulos.

‘They should be cutting taxes not raising them. That would make the money circulate better in the economy.’

Pantelis Theodoropoulos, a young banker, is less reflective –if not downright angry.

‘Those people who got the country into this situation need to be made accountable,’ he says, with half an eye on the latest developments from the Greek parliament, beamed out from the café’s flat screen television set.

On a daily basis the headlines seem to get worse as EU ministers prepare to meet later this month to tackle the crisis, while Greece tries to allay fears that investors in its debt will loose money.

This week Moody’s cut its credit rating on Greek debt and raised the chances of a default to 50-50. The true extent of Greece’s cash deficit may become clear as soon as this week as IMF and European officials complete their audit of its public accounts.

But it’s not just politicians who are praying for a miracle.

Archbishop Gregorios of Thyadeira and Great Britain is the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in Britain and Ireland. During an audience at his private chapel, he told me that yes, the financial crisis, has been giving his congregation sleepless nights but times of hardship often bring people closer together. Since the start of the crisis he said his congregation has grown.

‘Greeks are deeply religious people,’ he says. ‘When you suffer immediately you remember god and you feel for others who are suffering—not only in Greece but also in Ireland and Portugal.’

The Archbishop recalls Jesus Christ’s words from the Gospel of Matthew and reminds me ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Existential issues aside, Greece faces a $43 billion funding gap by next year.

That’s about the same amount that has gone offshore since the start of 2010, Greek treasury officials say.

Much of that money has found its way into London’s real estate market where agents like Panos Koutsogiannakis have seen surge in interest from Greek investors.

“We’ve had a steady stream of enquiries all of this year,” Koutsogiannakis, a Greek-Australian, tells me from the London offices of realtor Hyde Park Agencies.

“Most are cash buyers and some haven’t even seen the properties before. I have one client transacting on a $1.3 million flat which they haven’t ever seen.”

Koutsogiannakis says his average Greek client is spending between $1.2 million and $2.4 million on apartments in some of the most expensive areas in the British capital, like Knightsbridge and Mayfair.

Four doors along, realtor Stephen Kalogroulis of Hellas Helvetia says he is getting up to 20 enquiries a week.

He tells me the parlous state of Greece’s economy is “a standard conversation” he has with Greek investors on a near daily basis.

“They want to talk about it all of the time,” he says.

"They want to talk about how the property market has collapsed, how there are no jobs."

There may be a dearth of employment opportunities in Greece but the boom in demand for Greek speakers is attracting young workers to London in droves.

“Loads of people are coming over here and they’ll take anything they can get,” says Kalogroulis.

“We advertised for a lettings agent four weeks ago and we got 25 enquiries from Greece. Normally we would get only one or two.”

Kalogroulis eventually filled the post last week, hiring a civil servant from Athens who has now moved to the UK.

Yet what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for some has also had devastating consequences for other London-based Greeks, young and old.

Theodoropoulos, who moved from Australia to be closer to where his family comes from, says he may never fulfil his dream of living and working in Greece because of lack of prospects.

‘I am now facing the real prospect of remaining a Greek outside my country for my whole life. It’s terrible. It’s sad.’

Natives like Babis Kalamis, who have already spent 30 years in Britain, once planned on returning home for good one day but those hopes have been dashed by Greece’s dangerous debt spiral and rampant unemployment.

“Last year, after I lost my wife, I went back to live in Greece for a year,” Kalamis tells me while stacking shelves at the Athenian Grocery in London’s Bayswater district.

“That was just when the crisis started. When I left it was full-blown. It was bad. So, I came back here and now I am an employee here at this store.”

Cause for complaint, I ask him? “No, I’m happy here but took some time for me to find myself,” replies Kalamis philosophically.

For Greece’s sake let’s hope ministers have a “Eureka” moment soon, as the economic fate of millions lies in the balance.

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Epomenos Pelatis

    Greeks again? Forget it.Never you make a deal with a Greek.I am a first hand witness to their cunning ways.

    June 3, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  2. Alec Mally

    Interesting that you decided to run this story now. Perhaps you would help the Greek Finance Ministry track down some of the tax evading "investors?" Or did you run this just to make the Greeks look good?

    June 3, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  3. Anna

    And you can bet most of those Greeks who buy property in the UK are doing so with money that was earned off the books.
    Signed: one of the few (bitter) Greeks who work longer hours than they are paid for and have always paid taxes...

    June 3, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  4. fa_and_kc

    One of the great things about socialism is that is allows for a redistribution of wealth that capitalism cannot equal. This is a perfect example of what happens to a populous trusting big government to take care of them. When the government collapses, the only ones who had the wherewithal to build up a business or save some money in offshore dollars are the only ones who can get out with a bit of what their hard work has built.

    June 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

    Read your article titled: GREEKS POUR MONEY INTO LONDON PROPERTY

    These Greeks who pour money into London property are not millionaires, are not traditional investors, are not rich shipowners or rich businesmen. These Greeks are doctors, lawyers, politicians, journarlists who are having black money as they have never paid taxes here.
    ( just an example: the majority of the doctors here in Greece are declaring yearly income around eur 10.000 the moment they get minimum eur 50/person who is visiting their medical office multiplied by minimum 10 patients per day = eur 500 daily multiplied by 20 days per month we arrive to eur 10.000 monthly and not yearly)
    Admit I was so stupid all these years not asking them to give me a receipt for eur 50 that I was paying them everytime and this way allowed them to avoid taxation,
    Admit I was so stupid that all these years I didn't put pressure of our Government people to chase them.
    In USA when somebody doesn't pay his taxes- simply goes to prison
    In GREECE when somebody doesn't pay his taxes- he goes to his luxury appartment at Mayfair, London.
    We don't need IMF funds, we just need a tax-police.

    This is just a notice from a woman working more than 45 hours weekly for nearly 30 years,
    I have never got any loan to buy an expensive car or going to holidays, I don't owe even a cents to anyone
    and suddenly found myself mortgaged to IMF.

    I WANT MY PRIDE BACK. This is what I demand from my Government
    And from you all around the world please
    Don't consider that all Greeks are the same. Τhere is a difference between sheeps and goats.
    Thank you so much

    June 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  6. nick2

    same old story – too much money in the hands of too few.

    June 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  7. Dorothy de Roy

    Very illuminating and provocative piece by Nina dos Samtos about the Greeks abroad and their attitude to the economic crisis. Very interesting follow up on the Greek offshore investment at this time in UK property.Fair comment from Andrew on Nima's piece during the programme World Business Today, that Greeks could be looking at the USA where they mifght get better bargains in real estate. It's an interesting idea, are they investing in USA real estate also?

    June 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  8. Frankie D.

    Dear Greek scum, repatriate all your funds and Go Home. Your country is in serious financial ruin/turmoil/collapse and you blithering idiots lost of sense of national pride.

    June 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  9. Jason

    The Greeks have so much money hidden. Have American Greeks taken all of their money out of The American Bank of Greece? This is where they hide money from the IRS and it stays in dollars. They have to pay for all the years of corruption. Turkey on the other hand is thriving and growing. When it enters the EU Turks will swarm into Greece and help it out.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  10. FT

    When you describe all greeks as "scum", you immediately make your argument redundant and make it smack of racism. But because we like making broad sweeping comments here, all Anglo-Saxons have always shown racist tendencies towards all non-Anglophone countries. Period.

    June 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  11. Georgy

    As a Greek expatriate living in Greece now, I've expected this situation to happen in Greece long before the Greek people did have knowledge about this situation. Greece's lack of infrastructure in heavy industry, tourism and agriculture have created this financial situation because of the corruption by unscrupulous Greek politicians helped by their henchman supported by the justice system to cover their tracks and now we the Greek people will pay for the mistakes of these Greek politicians whom they should go to jail for their failure to govern in the way they sworn to do so. As long as there is no justice in Greece this situation will remain for as long as we and the generations to come will take no action. At present all Greek politicians are immunized from prosecution therefore the Constitution must be rewritten with no immunity to politicians. Democracy for all not just for some.

    June 4, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  12. papalamepimelos

    What I fail to understand is why the taxes of the rest of the EU citizens should be used to subsidize the Greeks and their notorious corruption and tax evasion.

    And now the massive capital flight from Greece to London, investing in appartments in cash.

    Do the Greeks themselves think that such a situation is fair? I don't care about corrupt politicians or whatever – what I do care is that 110 billion euro in aid (technically it's called a loan, but no worries, it won't ever be repaid) translates into 220 euro PER PERSON (500 million inhabitants in Europe).

    So my family of four pays 4x 220 euro = 880 euro to Greece. That's 880 euro of taxes that I had to pay – whilst the Greece practiced tax evasion.

    June 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  13. papalamepimelos

    The EU is throwing good money after bad money, and it makes me sick.

    The only good thing is that this Greek crisis has completely stopped any discussions about Turkey joining the EU. God only knows what mess we would end up in if we had allowed them in as well.

    Wish we could go back to the start of it, as Schuman intended. With the Northern European countries having a coal and steel pact. I expect that in the next few years, the peripheral economies (Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy perhaps too) will get dropped and what will remain is the economic core of present-day EU: Germany and its periphery (NL, BE, Denmark), France and periphery, and perhaps Scandinavia. UK might be a good part of it too, but they seem to be unwilling themselves to commit to the EU. And given the current situation we're in, I can't really blame them.

    I'll repeat here to the Greeks what Margaret Thatcher once said long ago: "I want my money back!"

    June 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  14. Bohica

    Brigands and thieves.. Brigands and thieves.. the country of F – U .. Should have never let those swindlers in in the first place... Well the EU is really screwed now..

    June 4, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  15. Nikos

    Dear Frankie, now, I don't go calling you an Anglo-Saxon barbarian do I? Very uncalled for old chap. Also the problem the is affecting Greece – a trade imbalance – is and also will affect the rest of the developed world eventually, and Brittain and the US are also not faring well per GDP in relation to their debts – so look at your own back yard first.
    In respect to national pride,a Greek always has more pride than any of your tuberculosis suffering Londeners,so please let's refrain from these unfounded emotive jingoistic sentiments. Remember Thatcherite Brittain in the 70's? – ooh what a paradise it was! So lets not laugh because every nation has it's day. I am a dual citizen; Greek & Australian, and live in North Sydney and where the Australian economy is the envy at the moment ( & warm & sunny where the numbers of Brittons applying to migrate to from their English 'paradise' is rising in record numbers every year) , but who is to say that might change for the worse one day? Say I'm not taking anything for granted and accept every ounce of furtune and luck as a blessing.
    Cheers for now, and please refrain from this obvious Brittish racism for now...

    June 5, 2011 at 4:13 am |
  16. Georgy

    Why my comment still awaiting moderation ?????????????????????????????

    June 5, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  17. Mel

    Send a few tax cheater to jail and in 6 months this crisis is solved

    June 5, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  18. prayinthespirit

    To Melina from Thessaloniki: My husband and I were in Athens for Christmas 2010. It is very apparent that Greece is suffering from much the same as the US: greedy leaders, illegal immigrants, sad economy... We met lots of beautiful sheep: giving, kind, and so obviously heartbroken about their state of affairs. Don't despair, pray and work hard to change those currently in power.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  19. Nikos

    papalamepimelos, Bohuca & co,

    What a load of codswollop indeed! " I want my money back", " swindlers & thieves".! You tones are very biased and racist indeed.

    From where I sit here in the lucky country of Australia, the whole of Europe is a mess, and in an economic context, most EU nations are pathetic economic performers; it's just that Greece is unfairly being used as a scapegoat for the fact the the European Union experiment is and will fail, and there's a whole raft of economists that predict the EU will fail and give very good arguments why.

    The European Union as a whole is an 'old' economy, fully developed, and unable to grow any more, whose time has come and gone, and whose population is unable to grow and replace itself, where corrupt,outdated and moribund socialist prictices are rife – from Sweden to Italy, from Spain to Germany – where these rife socialist mechanisms are rendering EU nations and companies as a whole uncomptetative and where again – Greece is being sacrificed on the pyre of the scapegoat because of the inability of the rest of the Europeans to accept the failure and weakness in their own solialist utopias.

    Ask anyone in north America or Australia would they migrate to grey,drab depressing Europe – where depression and suicide are running rampant in England,Denmark,Sweden,Germany, Eastern Europe,etc – and the answer is absolutely not!

    Where Greece is now, the rest of you Europeans are heading ther fast!

    What's the growth rate per GDP for European nations and the unemployement rates? Pathetic.

    As I said previously, I am a dual citizen; Greek and Australian, and as a European union citizen who lives in Australia I am in a pretty good objective positition to comment.....so leave the Greeks alone and realise the failure of the EU is only around the corners guvuners!

    Beware, the flame of protest and revolution that is being ignited in the streets of Athens, which will spread to the rest of the European Capitals eventually; and what are they protesting against, against both failed corruption,and also failed socialism ( though they don't realise it yet) for life does not owe anyone a living, and wages are not a birthright that's falls for free from the sky, but come from a competitive market economy.

    June 6, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  20. Byzantium Warrior

    Frankie D come and say that to my face and youll see what will happen to you. Dont know why Greeks are bring their money to the UK, its only a matter of time before the financial crisis hits the UK and the property market is a massive bubble waiting to burst. Oh yes before i forget RBS and Lloyds got bailed out whilst Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley went bust long before Greece had any financial problems. Theres more to come Greece will have the last laugh

    February 12, 2012 at 3:30 am |
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