By Renee Maltezou
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek shipowner Victor Restis has been imprisoned pending trial on money laundering and embezzlement charges, court officials said on Friday, making him one of only a few prominent businessmen to be jailed amid public anger over corruption.
Restis, who owns a shipping fleet and has a stake in Greece's top-selling newspaper, is being investigated over bad loans of up to 500 million euros from First Business Bank (FBBank), in which his family owned a majority stake until it was wound down this year.
Rated number 56 in the Lloyd's List top 100 influential people in shipping, Restis has been accused of using his influence over the bank to secure a 5.8 million euro loan for companies that are linked to him.
Restis denied any wrongdoing when he appeared before a prosecutor on Friday to respond to the charges of money laundering and felony-degree embezzlement against the state, the officials and his lawyers said.
These charges carry up to a life sentence in Greece.
Earlier this week, Restis Group said in a statement that the shipowner was "shocked by the false accusations", which were made by a former employee and were "baseless".
A Greek prosecutor and the investigating official said Restis needed to be imprisoned pending trial because he might flee. They shrugged off a goodwill gesture by Restis, who deposited with authorities the amount he is accused of having embezzled.
Arrest warrants for two more people in connection with the case have been issued, court officials said.
Under Greek law, Restis can remain in pre-trial detention for up to 18 months.
Greece's judicial system is notoriously slow and inefficient, and the country's international lenders have criticized it as one of the reasons for the country's economic crisis. It could take years until the trial or a final ruling.
The country's descent into a crippling recession has triggered public anger against a political and business elite widely viewed as privileged and corrupt, prompting prosecutors to step up investigations into corruption cases.
The shipping industry accounts for about 5 percent of GDP, but shipowners pay tax based on their tonnage, rather than their profits, and have been sharply rebuked by opposition parties who say they are sidestepping their share of austerity.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London; editing by Mike Collett-White)