Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras indicated during Monday's fierce debate in Parliament on the botched arms deal with Saudi Arabia that he is interpreting the accusations against Defense Minister Panos Kammenos as an attempt to undermine the government and, as such, offered SYRIZA’s coalition partner his full support.
Failing to directly answer the opposition’s questions about the affair, Tsipras accused New Democracy of making an issue of a “nonexistent scandal.” The premier also suggested that his government is the victim of a destabilization attempt organized by New Democracy and specific business interests who want bring down the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition.
“You are being guided by a media lobby,” said Tsipras. “You are not targeting Kammenos because you have a problem with him but because you want to inflict damage on the government. In the depths of their sick minds, they want to create conditions that will destabilize this government because they do not want us to lead Greece out of the crisis.”
Tsipras provided full backing for his coalition partner Kammenos and rejected the claim that the government had conducted negotiations over the sale of 300,000 anti-tank shells with a middleman who was not officially recognized by Saudi Arabia. The prime minister argued that Athens had been assured by the Saudi Defense Ministry that Greek businessman Vassilis Papadopoulos had been authorized to represent Riyadh.
The premier also claimed that Greece’s ambassador in Riyadh had based a claim that Papadopoulos was not authorized on information he received from a Greek source, John Sfakianakis. Tsipras suggested that Sfakianakis was trying to act as a middleman instead of Papadopoulos.
The six questions regarding the 66-million-euro deal to sell anti-tank shells put to the SYRIZA leader by New Democracy chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis were not answered.
They included why the coalition had accepted the involvement of a middleman in the deal when this has been banned since 2011, why the government allowed the businessman to play a role after the Greek Embassy in Riyadh had suggested the Saudi authorities did not authorize him and what was going to happen to the remaining 200,000 shells after the Saudis indicated that they would take 100,000 rather than the initially agreed 300,000.
“Did you know about all this? Was it approved by you? After all this, do you continue to support Mr Kammenos?” asked the opposition chief, who described the affair as a scandal “of the first order.” Mitsotakis accused the government of being “unethical” and said that Tsipras is “tied hand and foot” to Kammenos. “You arrived together and you are going to leave together,” he said.
The opposition leader suggested that Monday's discussion was “just the beginning” and that the conservatives will continue to probe the matter. Sources suggested that questions may also be directed at Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and others.
Tsipras pledged to ask for a parliamentary discussion on tax evasion in the near future.