May 21, 2015 / 1:08 PM / 2 years ago

Greece's Varoufakis courts controversy anew with taping remark

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis attends an European Union finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, May 12, 2015.Francois Lenoir

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has raised a fresh furor by telling a newspaper that he taped a confidential meeting of euro zone finance ministers, drawing criticism that he was undermining Greece's efforts to secure aid from lenders.

Since assuming his post in January, the outspoken Varoufakis has often found himself in the midst of controversy over his brash style and sharp-tongued barbs against creditors at a time when Greece needs their help to avert bankruptcy.

He was finally sidelined from sensitive negotiations with EU and IMF lenders after returning last month from a meeting of Eurogroup finance ministers in Riga, where he was rebuked for a lecturing tone and for refusing to show up at a state dinner.

In an interview with the New York Times magazine, Varoufakis denied his peers lashed out at him or called him names in Riga. The magazine wrote that Varoufakis said he taped the meeting but could not release the tape due to confidentiality rules.

Eurogroup rules do not explicitly prohibit participants from recording talks as long as the contents are kept confidential, suggesting Varoufakis had not broken any rules.

But the disclosure prompted howls of disbelief from Greek media and the opposition, who accused him of undercutting Greece's efforts to build alliances by recording his peers.

"Mr Varoufakis has surpassed the limits of political frivolousness and irresponsibility," the centre-left PASOK party said in a statement. Centrist To Potami party leader Stavros Theodorakis said: "What Greece has won was through alliances. Greece will not win anything by recording counterparts."

Greek newspapers piled on the attack. An Eleftheros Typos columnist wrote: "We all should care that the country's finance minister at a most crucial moment states without shame that he secretly recorded all dialogues and discussions at the last Eurogroup in Riga, which was his Waterloo."

Asked by a PASOK lawmaker in parliament about the recording, Varoufakis did not deny or confirm he had taped the meeting but said: "My respect for the confidentiality of the talks with my partners, my peers, with the institutions, is exemplary and I believe it has been noted and understood by everyone."

Hounded by journalists as he entered the finance ministry, Varoufakis brushed off a question on whether the recording was video or audio with: "Fairy tales, fairy tales, fairy tales!"

After adopting a lower profile in the days after the Riga meeting, Varoufakis has recently returned to a familiar routine of frequent appearances in the media and lecture circuit.

Last week, he raised eyebrows by saying his proposal for a debt swap to smooth Greek debt payments fills European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi's "soul with fear".

A senior Greek ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday that Athens could not make a payment to the International Monetary Fund due on June 5 unless foreign lenders disbursed more aid, the latest warning from Athens that it is on the verge of default.

Additional reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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