Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou yesterday accused supermarket owners of launching a «direct attack» on the ministry and the Competition Commission over the issue of their alleged harmonized price practices – which are under investigation by the watchdog. His statement came after Pantelis Panteliadis, president of the Hellenic Association of Supermarket Owners (SESME), threatened on Wednesday that in the case of a conviction by the Commission, the SESME board would resign, leaving the minister with none of the retailers’ representatives with whom to negotiate. Six top supermarket owners and Panteliadis were referred to the Commission on November 19, on suspicion of harmonized practices in concealing the discounts offered by supermarkets to their chains. Papathanassiou said that any companies that engage in price-fixing or use any unlawful practices to keep prices high will suffer the consequences, as consumer interest is paramount. «A free market does not mean a licentious one. There are laws and this government will enforce them, with no exceptions or discriminations. This is the message to everyone,» he said. Panteliadis claimed «the main charge refers to a old gentlemen’s agreement to keep inflation down in order for the country to enter the Economic and Monetary Union, and now we have to apologize for this.» SESME’s General Secretary Nikos Veropoulos, questioned earlier this week, said, «I was asked to respond to a science-fiction scenario that may have been cultivated by certain businessmen.» He went on to put the blame for high prices on industrialists. In a press release yesterday, SESME said there was no confrontation with the ministry, but repeated the board’s threat to quit.