IMF Considers Greece Its Most Unhelpful Client Ever

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Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras.

Photographer: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images

International Monetary Fund officials told their euro-area colleagues that Greece is the most unhelpful country the organization has dealt with in its 70-year history, according to two people familiar with the talks.

In a short and bad-tempered conference call on Tuesday, officials from the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission complained that Greek officials aren’t adhering to a bailout extension deal reached in February or cooperating with creditors, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the call was private.

The fund disputed the report. “Your story regarding reputed comments by the IMF is without any basis in fact,” Bruno Silvestre, an IMF spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “No such remark has been made.”

German finance officials said trying to persuade the Greek government to draw up a rigorous economic policy program is like riding a dead horse, the people said, while the IMF team said Greece’s attitude to its official creditors was unacceptable. The German Finance Ministry didn’t respond to multiple requests seeking comment.

Concern is growing among officials that the recalcitrance of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government may end up forcing Greece out of the euro, as the cash-strapped country refuses to take the action needed to trigger more financial support. Tsipras is pinning his hopes for a breakthrough on a meeting with ECB President Mario Draghi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker this week in Brussels.

EU Summit

“These are difficult talks,” Merkel told her parliamentary group Tuesday about the negotiations with Greece, according to two participants. She said that the outcome of the talks is completely open, according to the two.

The Greek government is seeking a political deal at a European Union summit starting Thursday to unlock funds from the country’s 240 billion-euro ($254 billion) bailout package, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said in an interview on Skai TV Wednesday.

“After one-and-a-half months of contact, we believe that for there to be a political solution, it is important for the euro-area’s big countries to weigh in,” Sakellaridis said. “We’re not downplaying technical discussions, but we want there to be a framework, and for that we’re asking for a political solution.” Sakellaridis didn’t respond to a request for comment on the Tuesday conference call.

Cash Crunch

Euro-region finance ministers are urging Greece to draw up a plan to fix the economy in exchange for emergency loans to keep the country afloat. As Tsipras challenges his creditors to blink first, his government’s money is running out, raising the prospect of a cash crunch as early as this month. The country faces more than 2 billion euros in debt payments Friday, and government salaries and pensions must be at the end of March.

Greece Wednesday auctioned 1 billion euros in 13-week treasury bills, and accepted offers for 1.3 billion euros, the maximum amount allowed including non-competitive bids. The country’s debt management agency plans to tap another 300 million euros in second-day bids Thursday. The money will be used to roll over 1.6 billion euros of treasury redemptions due Friday.

The call with euro-area finance officials came after the group’s chairman, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said the country could use capital controls to remain in the currency union.

“It’s been explored what should happen if a country gets into deep trouble -- that doesn’t immediately have to be an exit scenario,” Dijsselbloem told BNR Nieuwsradio. For the 2013 Cypriot bailout, “we had to take radical measures, banks were closed for a while and capital flows within and out of the country were tied to all kinds of conditions, but you can think of all kinds of scenarios.”

Stocks Drops

Greek stocks dropped Wednesday, with bank shares losing 8.3 percent as of 5:13 p.m. local time, after Djisselbloem’s comments on capital controls. The benchmark Athens Stock Exchange was down 3.9 percent. Yields on three-year bonds rose 71 basis points to 21.14 percent.

While technical discussions have begun with Greece over how to implement a Feb. 20 euro-area finance ministers’ agreement for a four-month extension of Greece’s loan, progress so far has been minimal, according to the people involved in the talks. Officials from the institutions monitoring the bailout said during the meeting that Greece is unilaterally pushing measures through parliament that have an unclear fiscal impact and without consulting them, a person familiar said.

Greece’s parliament will vote Wednesday on measures to deal with the country’s social crisis, including subsidizing electricity, food and housing for households in poverty. The government Tuesday also submitted legislation for repayment of tax arrears in 100 installments to be voted on Friday, which it hopes will provide a boost to the state coffers.

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