PM’s aides reject stock graft claims

Two close aides of Prime Minister Costas Simitis had to defend themselves yesterday against a newspaper’s claims that they had made millions of drachmas in the past by trading shares in companies owned by a businessman who had extensive dealings with the State. This followed the forced resignation on Tuesday of Deputy Public Order Minister Vangelis Malesios after the daily Avriani newspaper reported that he was living in a home owned by Athanassios Athanassoulis, owner of the Altec computer firm. Avriani publisher Giorgos Kouris and Athanassoulis are fighting over Alter Television, in which both have shares. Yesterday, the Avriani claimed that State Minister Stefanos Manikas had cashed in 178,388,969 drachmas’ (523,518 euros’) worth of shares in 2000, of which 117,403,451 drachmas (344,544 euros) were stocks in Altec and two subsidiaries. PASOK Executive Bureau member Michalis Neonakis, who is also close to Simitis, was also said to have made money from Altec shares. Both denied the claims. Manikas said he would take legal action. Simitis reportedly asked Cabinet Secretary Socrates Cosmidis to investigate the issue carefully and report back to him. The two aides, however, do not appear to have done anything illegal, as a law limiting politicians’ dealings on the stock exchange was passed in 2000, after the last national elections. With his sacking of Malesios, Simitis has made clear he will not tolerate any scandal. New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis claimed the government «is out on a limb, without shame, without limitations, held hostage by its dealings with organized interests.» Christos Protopappas, government spokesman, said, «PASOK’s government is noted for its transparency and honesty.» Neonakis suggested party rivals were to blame. «The slander and innuendo serve selfish and petty political expediencies. My stock exchange dealings are absolutely clear and do not hide any dealings behind the scenes,» he said. Manikas said, «My social and political life was and remains legal, transparent and flawless.» His investments were published in the annual statements of deputies’ assets.