BUSINESS

Gov’t rebuffs charges of colluding with companies over public project tenders

HARIS ARGYROPOULOS

Planning and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou has defended the system for the assignment of public projects, rebuffing allegations by a prominent contractor that it is tightly controlled by one family which also has media interests. «The only thing we are interested in is for projects to be completed within time schedules, to the highest possible quality and with transparency. We are not interested in clashes between various groups,» she said. Earlier this week, the chairman of the Michaniki construction firm, Prodromos Emfietzoglou, warned during a television interview that the possible assignment of the project for the aesthetic upgrading of the Athens Olympic Stadium to competitor Aktor would be illegal as its basic shareholders, the Bobolas family, were also owners of Pegasus Publishing company, which publishes the daily Ethnos. According to a constitutional revision earlier this year, anyone with an interest of more than 5 percent in a media company is excluded from participating in public project tenders in the interests of transparency. Emfietzoglou, who said he had sent the file of the case to the prime minister, political leaders and deputies, said the activities of the Hellenic Technodomiki group, which is now merged with Aktor, are not restricted to Olympic projects. The Bobolas family, he said, has come to exercise full control over the mechanisms of public project assignment - in concert with other construction groups - and receives the lion's share. Emfietzoglou also said the mathematical formula employed since 1998 to prevent excessive discounts by participants in the tenders is essentially a tool in the hands of those who control the mechanism of assignments. He claimed that companies participating in a tender know the winner in advance, as in most cases those controlling the racket - where the Bobolas family plays a leading role - have fixed the bids to be submitted beforehand. Emfietzoglou said the Olympic Stadium project, the first phase of which was won by Aktor, was an example of the racket in action. In order to push the project toward Aktor at a price much higher than the 140-million-euro budget originally set, the racket - which includes corrupt officials in public departments - made sure that the tender was declared null so as to open the way for direct negotiations with the bidders, he claimed. As though by coincidence, the four consortiums which were short-listed for the second phase of the tender omitted some documents and were rejected for formal reasons. This forced the ministry to assign the contract after negotiations, in accordance with EU Directive 93/37, Emfietzoglou said. In a letter to Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, he wrote, «We have been informed that one of the four consortiums which colluded against the public interest and the budget of the Olympic projects is about to be declared as the lowest bidder on the basis of... negotiations, in violation of the law concerning public works.» «Moreover, two of the four consortiums should have been rejected, as basic shareholders in some of their members also have media interests,» said Emfietzoglou. Citing published data of the construction companies in which the Bobolas family has interests, he said, «In violation of constitutional provisions, there is joint control over construction companies Hellenic Technodomiki-TEV-Aktor and Pegasus Publishing.» Replying to the above claims, published in Kathimerini, Aktor's chairman of the board, Dimitris Koutras, denied the allegation of incompatibility because of media ownership, saying the company in its present enlarged form was the result of the merger with Hellenic Technodomiki and TEV, with Hellenic Technodomiki holding a 74.98 percent interest. Neither the two firms nor their directors are in violation of the law. He said the Aktor group members were in possession of all the necessary legal documents regarding transparency from the National Radio and Television Council.

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