NEWS

Arms funding billions are up for grabs

The figure of a casually dressed man moved swiftly in the dark, apparently trying to leave a quiet street in suburban Kefalari. With his black designer leather jacket and an expensive bag slung over his shoulder, he looked as if he was on his way to an informal appointment. But his guard and driver were waiting for him at quite some distance from the meeting point. It was 10 p.m. on November 14, when much of Greece was watching a soccer match between Panathinaikos and Fenerbahce. The socialite businessman began walking faster to avoid a group walking toward him on Olympias Street, but some of them recognized him. One of the group, also a socialite businessman, assumed the conspiratorial measures were being taken to protect the other’s host, a leading government figure, in view of certain decisions about to be taken. Comments were made, and some of the group began discussing how much richer and more powerful they would become if they also managed to become «national middlemen.» This incident is a true story. And it is also a fact that today the Government Council of Foreign Policy and Defense (KYSEA) decides on the allocation of four arms programs worth 2.2 billion euros. By an odd coincidence, the same local representative, Thomas Liakounakos’s AXON, is involved in three of them. 1. Boeing Apaches. There is a recommendation to purchase 12 helicopters, for 600 million euros, with immediate delivery. 2. Two NH-90 transport helicopters, with an attempt to make another direct order, for a total of 600-630 million euros. The striking thing about this order is that it is said to be the Bobola group’s first involvement, working together with the Liakounakos group. Sources say this collaboration will lead to the formation of a new company, though this will not affect the interests of the oldest established Greek middleman, Socrates Kokkalis, who has turned away from telecommunications to armaments. 3. Vosper Thornycroft Corvettes, also represented by AXON. The recommendation to KYSEA mentions the purchase of a Corvette as an option, given that the price of one is almost 600 million euros. Unsurprisingly, alarm bells are ringing among armaments representatives and dealers. Liakounakos went on the defensive last week, with extensive statements in the press. He is very active; in 1996 he was a representative for arms projects worth 7.5 million euros. If KYSEA approves the recommendations, the arms budget will shoot up to 10 billion euros. Some government members are concerned about the new allocations, because of an apparent increase in the entangled interests connected with arms funds. Unconfirmed sources say that Prime Minister Costas Simitis recently received a lengthy memo relating shocking details of allocation procedures at the Defense Ministry. Simitis also knows about the Bobolas group’s attempts to get involved in the arms business. The well-oiled machine is already at work. Representatives, dealers and middlemen are appointing key individuals to committees. As elsewhere, including in the Greek army, a small number of officers and technical personnel serve the interests of dealers and middlemen, either while still in uniform or in retirement. But these few are rejected by their fellow officers. The rumor mill With billions of euros being spent on armaments, rumors are rife about business partnerships, buyouts, and foreign companies buying shares in local dealerships. The stories are passed on by people trying to navigate their way around the state coffers, and who plan to turn their agencies into middlemen for defense procurements. There is talk of the Raytheon company from the USA becoming involved, perhaps even participating in Socrates Kokkalis’s Intracom. Sources cite the involvement of companies owned by Thomas Liakounakos and Hellenic Aerospace (EAB). Unconfirmed sources say agreements have been signed between Raytheon, Intracom and SONAK, speculation triggered by Kokkalis and Liakounakos’s meeting with Raytheon president William Swanson in Athens two weeks ago, at which a government official was said to be present. Swanson’s company is part of a consortium competing for the Olympic Insurance package. That tender is about to be allocated, with a budget of 211 million euros.