Akis Tsochatzopoulos, a once prominent socialist politician who held nearly a dozen ministerial positions over two decades but later fell from grace, was convicted and imprisoned in one of Greece’s highest profile corruption trials, died Friday, the successor to his former party confirmed. He was 82.
Tsochatzopoulos had been suffering from severe health problems for several years, particularly after his conviction in 2013. He was sentenced to 20 years, but was released in 2018 on health grounds. State broadcaster ERT said the former minister died in a hospital in Piraeus, the port of Athens, from organ failure and sepsis.
A founding member of the formerly powerful PASOK party, Tsochatzopoulos had been a close aide to late prime minister Andreas Papandreou and served as defense minister from 1996 to 2001. It was one of 10 ministerial positions he held since 1981, when PASOK rose to power and became one of two parties that dominated Greek politics for nearly three decades.
Born on July 31, 1939, Tsochatzopoulos studied civil engineering in Germany, where he lived for around 16 years until the mid-1970s. His political career began in the early 1970s, when he became a member of a resistance party against the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967-74. He served as a lawmaker without break from 1981-2007, representing the northern city of Thessaloniki where he grew up.
He became a founding member of PASOK along with Papandreou, and was named minister for public works in the first PASOK government in 1981. He held ministerial posts in nearly all governments the party held until 2004, including the defense, interior, public order, development and transport portfolios.
In early 1996, Tsochatzopoulos launched a failed bid for the prime minister’s post after an already severely ill Papandreou resigned from the position. His bid for the PASOK party leadership after Papandreou’s death later that year also failed, but he continued his political career as a prominent party member and minister.
But it was his 1996-2001 tenure as defense minister that would eventually lead to his downfall. He began coming under fire from some quarters for what critics had described — and he denied — was a lavish wedding to his second wife in Paris in 2004, and for the purchase of a luxury apartment facing the Acropolis in Athens in 2010.
The couple’s finances came under scrutiny, and the former minister was arrested in April 2012 and remanded in custody. He was convicted the following year after one of Greece’s most high-profile corruption cases, on money laundering charges linked to bribes for major arms procurements contracts, mostly in the late 1990s, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Tsochatzopoulos denied all the charges.
In 2017, a panel of judges ruled in favor of releasing the former minister on a 200,000 euro bail on health grounds, after he was hospitalized and underwent heart surgery. He had said at the time he could not raise the bail money.
He secured early release again the following year, and was released on health grounds in July 2018.
PASOK has since become part of a coalition, Movement for Change (KINAL), which issued a terse message of condolence Friday.
“Akis Tsochatzopoulos was a founding member of PASOK. He participated in top government and party positions,” KINAL said. “But it is known that for many years now, PASOK had differentiated — based on its principles and values — its position against him fully and radically. Condolences to his family.”
Tsochatzopoulos is survived by his wife Vicki Stamati and their son, as well as a son and a daughter from his first marriage.