Ex minister's wife to deny money laundering [UPDATE]

Viki Stamati's appeal to remove magistrate from probe is rejected

Viki Stamati, the wife of former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, on Friday faced an investigating magistrate in connection with an ongoing probe into an extensive money laundering network in which the ex minister and several of his relatives have been implicated.

According to sources, Stamati was expected to rebuff all charges attributed to her, insisting that her purchase of a home on the exclusive Dionysiou Areopagitou Street was funded by legally acquired cash, including an 800,000 euro bank loan.

An earlier appeal by Stamati for the removal from the probe of the magistrate Gavriil Mallis, whom she allegedly accuses of bias against her, was rejected. Sources said that she was to lodge an appeal with the European Court of Justice, claiming that her right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty had been violated.

Stamati's brother Panayiotis testified earlier on Friday.

Meanwhile, Tsochatzopoulos reportedly issued a new statement condemning the two main parties, socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy, for launching the prosecution against in a bid to secure gains ahead of general elections on May 6.

His statement came a day after his daughter, Areti Tsochatzopoulou, joined her father in custody in Korydallos Prison after testifying before an investigating magistrate, also on money laundering charges. The magistrate was unconvinced by the explanations she gave regarding her acquisition of a 402-square-meter property in the affluent Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki.

The magistrate was more lenient with a more distant relative of Tsochatzopoulos -- his wife?s aunt, Ekaterini Stamati -- and approved her release after she linked the ex-minister to the offshore firm Torcasso. Stamati is being charged in connection with suspicious bank transfers, including one for 3 million drachmas (or 8,800 euros) that was paid into her account at Emporiki Bank by Torcasso in April 2001. She reportedly testified that most of these payments were made by her son-in-law for the construction of a home in the resort of Porto Rafti but that on one occasion, while on vacation, he had said that he would ask Tsochatzopoulos to arrange for the money to be deposited. This was the payment that, it transpires, was made by Torcasso, Stamati said. Sources said she complained of ?being treated like a professional criminal because I once, and unknowingly, received 3 million drachmas from a firm associated with Mr Tsochatzopoulos.?