Greek PM Tsipras under pressure over covert Syriza drachma plan reports

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Some members of Greece's leftist government wanted to raid central bank reserves and hack taxpayer accounts to prepare a return to the drachma, according to reports on Sunday that highlighted the chaos in the ruling Syriza party.

It is not clear how seriously the plans, attributed to former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis and former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, were considered by the government and both ministers were sacked earlier this month. However the reports have been seized on by opposition parties who have demanded an explanation.

The reports came at the end of a week of fevered speculation over what Syriza hardliners had in mind as an alternative to the tough bailout terms that Tsipras reluctantly accepted to keep Greece in the euro.

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Greek PM Tsipras under pressure over covert Syriza drachma plan reports
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 20: People wait to enter a bank branch as Greek banks reopened on Monday morning after three weeks of closure on July 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Many restrictions on transactions will remain and a lot of goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in value added tax (VAT) approved by Parliament last Thursday, which is among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 20: People queue to get money from ATMs as Greek banks reopened on Monday morning after three weeks of closure on July 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Many restrictions on transactions will remain and a lot of goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in value added tax (VAT) approved by Parliament last Thursday, which is among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 20: People wait to enter a bank branch as Greek banks reopened on Monday morning after three weeks of closure on July 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Many restrictions on transactions will remain and a lot of goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in value added tax (VAT) approved by Parliament last Thursday, which is among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 20: A National Bank official opens the door of a bank branch as people enter after Greek banks reopened on Monday morning after three weeks of closure on July 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Many restrictions on transactions will remain and a lot of goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in value added tax (VAT) approved by Parliament last Thursday, which is among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
People enter a branch of a national bank in Athens on July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopened after a three-week shutdown imposed to stop mass cash withdrawals crashing the financial system, but citizens woke up to widespread price hikes as part of a cash-for-reform deal with the country's creditors. The shutdown since June 29 is estimated to have cost the economy some 3.0 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in market shortages and export disruption. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait to enter a bank on July 20, 2015 in Athens. Greek banks reopened on July 20 after a shutdown lasting three weeks imposed by the government to avert a crash in the banking system over the country's debt crisis. However, capital controls in force since June 29 remain in place, although a daily cash withdrawal limit of 60 euros ($65.03) has now been relaxed to a weekly restriction of 420 euros. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
People enter a bank in central Athens on July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopened on July 20 after a shutdown lasting three weeks imposed by the government to avert a crash in the banking system over the country's debt crisis. However, capital controls in force since June 29 remain in place, although a daily cash withdrawal limit of 60 euros ($65.03) has now been relaxed to a weekly restriction of 420 euros. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 20: People queue to get money from ATMs as Greek banks reopened on Monday morning after three weeks of closure on July 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Many restrictions on transactions will remain and a lot of goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in value added tax (VAT) approved by Parliament last Thursday, which is among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
The first customers, most of them pensioners, stand in a queue to enter a branch at National Bank of Greece headquarters in Athens, Monday, July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopen on Monday morning, but many restrictions on transactions, including cash withdrawals, will remain. Also, many goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in Value Added Tax approved by Parliament last Thursday, among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
People enter a bank in central Athens on July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopened on July 20 after a shutdown lasting three weeks imposed by the government to avert a crash in the banking system over the country's debt crisis. However, capital controls in force since June 29 remain in place, although a daily cash withdrawal limit of 60 euros ($65.03) has now been relaxed to a weekly restriction of 420 euros. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - JULY 20: A National Bank official opens the door of a bank branch as people enter after Greek banks reopened on Monday morning after three weeks of closure on July 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. Many restrictions on transactions will remain and a lot of goods and services will become more expensive as a result of a rise in value added tax (VAT) approved by Parliament last Thursday, which is among the first batch of austerity measures demanded by Greece's creditors. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
A policeman guards outside of a bank in central Athens on July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopened after a three-week shutdown imposed to stop mass cash withdrawals crashing the financial system, but citizens woke up to widespread price hikes as part of a cash-for-reform deal with the country's creditors. The shutdown since June 29 is estimated to have cost the economy some 3.0 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in market shortages and export disruption. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait outside a bank in central Athens on July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopened after a three-week shutdown imposed to stop mass cash withdrawals crashing the financial system, but citizens woke up to widespread price hikes as part of a cash-for-reform deal with the country's creditors. The shutdown since June 29 is estimated to have cost the economy some 3.0 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in market shortages and export disruption. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait to enter a bank, prior its opening on July 20, 2015 in Athens. Greek banks reopened on July 20 after a shutdown lasting three weeks imposed by the government to avert a crash in the banking system over the country's debt crisis. However, capital controls in force since June 29 remain in place, although a daily cash withdrawal limit of 60 euros ($65.03) has now been relaxed to a weekly restriction of 420 euros. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Fishmongers man their stalls at Athens' central fish and seafood market on July 20, 2015. Greek banks reopened Monday after a three-week shutdown imposed to stop a run on ATMs from crashing the financial system, but citizens woke up to widespread price hikes as part of a cash-for-reform deal with the country's creditors. Taxes went up on many products and services from sugar and cocoa to condoms, taxis and funerals, from 13 percent to 23 percent. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Around a quarter of the party's 149 lawmakers rebelled over the plan to pass sweeping austerity measures in exchange for up to 86 billion euros in fresh loans and Tsipras has struggled to hold the divided party together

In an interview with Sunday's edition of the RealNews daily, Panagiotis Lafazanis, the hardline former energy minister who lost his job after rebelling over the bailout plans, said he had urged the government to tap the reserves of the Bank of Greece in defiance of the European Central Bank.

Lafazanis, leader of a hardline faction in the ruling Syriza party that has argued for a return to the drachma, said the move would have allowed pensions and public sector wages to be paid if Greece were forced out of the euro.

"The main reason for that was for the Greek economy and Greek people to survive, which is the utmost duty every government has under the constitution," he said.

However he denied a report in the Financial Times that he wanted Bank of GreeceGovernor Yannis Stouranaras to be arrested if he had opposed a move to empty the central bank vaults. In comments to the semi-official Athens News Agency, he called the report a mixture of "lies, fantasy, fear-mongering, speculation and old-fashioned anti-communism".

In a separate report in the conservative Kathimerini daily, Varoufakis was quoted as saying that a small team in Syriza had prepared plans to secretly copy online tax codes. It said the "Plan B" was devised to allow the government to introduce a parallel payment system if the banking system was closed down.

In remarks the newspaper said were made to an investors' conference on July 16, Varoufakis said passwords used by Greeks to access their online tax accounts were to have been copied secretly and used to issue new PIN numbers for every taxpayer to be used in transactions with the state.

"This would have created a parallel banking system, which would have given us some breathing space, while the banks would have been shut due to the ECB's aggressive policy," Varoufakis was quoted as saying.

Varoufakis, an outspoken academic economist who became deeply unpopular with other European finance ministers during his five months in office, stood down earlier this month to facilitate bailout talks. He has been a strident opponent of the deal ever since.

Under the plan, which the report said went back to before Tsipras was elected in January, transactions through the parallel system would have been nominated in euros but could easily change into drachmas overnight, he was quoted as saying.

Varoufakis denied the report. "So, I was going to "hijack" Greek citizens' tax file numbers? Impressed by my defamers' imagination," he wrote on Twitter.

SHADOW SYSTEMS

The center-right New Democracy party and the centrist To Potami and the Socialist Pasok parties, which all backed Tsipras in parliamentary votes on the bailout this month, demanded a response to the reports.

"The revelations that are coming out raise a major political, economic and moral issue for the government which needs in-depth examination," it said in a statement.

"Is it true that a designated team in the finance ministry had undertaken work on a backup plan? Is it true they had planned to raid the national Mint and that they prepared for a parallel currency by hacking the tax registration numbers of the taxpayers?"

To Potami said the reports of covert plans were worthy of a bad thriller.

The Kathimerini report said access to the Greek tax service's computer systems was under the control of inspectors from the "troika", the international creditors' group, and therefore inaccessible to the government.

As a result, Varoufakis and an official in charge of information systems planned to copy taxpayer codes from online accounts and set up a shadow system. However, according to the report, he said the plan had never been approved by Tsipras.

Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas denied the government had ever discussed plans to take Greece out of the euro. "I have repeatedly said that such discussions have never taken place at a government policy level," he told Skai television.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Anna Willard and David Evans)

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