NEWS

Parliament votes to investigate ex-minister

Former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, a founding member of the ruling PASOK party, mounted a passionate defense of his record in office on Thursday in Parliament but his performance will not prevent him being investigated in connection to the purchase of four navy submarines as all but one of the parties voted for such a probe.

?You are knocking on the wrong door, there were no bribes here,? Tsochatzopoulos told MPs in a parliamentary hearing ahead of a vote on whether the House should launch its own probe into the deal after an investigation by the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) suggested that politicians, members of the armed forces and civil servants received up to 230 million euros in kickbacks as part of the agreement.

Greece ordered the four Type 214 diesel-electric submarines, manufactured by ThyssenKrupp in Germany, between 2001 and 2005 but the deal, worth 1.26 billion euros, was plagued by complications after Greece rejected the first submarine due to technical problems.

Tsochatzopoulos, who was ousted from PASOK last year over an unrelated issue, denied doing anything wrong and suggested that he was being made a scapegoat, although he did not clarify who might be targeting him. ?Their aim is to create a coliseum so that public opinion will be misled by the obliteration of some people and the saving of others,? he said.

Tsochatzopoulos, 71, focused on three key points, which he argues prove that he should not be probed or indicted. He said it was a myth that Greece?s armaments program was decided by the defense minister on the basis of what bribes he could get. Tsochatzopoulos pointed out that the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) always has the last say on defense purchases. The ex-minister also denied that the contract for the submarines was awarded directly to ThyssenKrupp and that the vessels were of poor quality.

Tsochatzopoulos added that the five-year statute of limitations applies to the case. Legal experts said this is true as far as the allegation of accepting bribes are concerned but MPs will try to argue that there was also money laundering involved, for which there are no time limits.

Only the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) failed to support a parliamentary investigation, arguing that the probe should go as far back as 1998. The right-wing party walked out of the discussion but a total of 226 MPs voted for a probe.