Simitis steps into fray

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday warned that all political figures would be judged by the public for their behavior and that the judiciary would have to investigate claims of scandal. In this way, he both expressed support for embattled members of his party and gave them notice that they would pay if guilty of anything. This was Simitis’s first public statement since the daily Avriani began claiming last week that two of his close aides, State Minister Stefanos Manikas and PASOK Executive Bureau member Michalis Neonakis, had made huge profits trading stock of a company that does much business with the State. The two say they have done nothing wrong and are caught in a dispute between Avriani publisher Giorgos Kouris and his former partner in Alter Television station, Athanassios Athanassoulis. The latter’s computer company, Altec, has been involved in many state contracts. A law passed in 2000, after the alleged trading, bars ministers from playing the bourse. «The judiciary is independent and it judges whether a crime has been committed and it judges whatever claims are made against anyone,» Simitis said before leaving for Helsinki, part of his tour of capitals as the EU’s current president. Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos called on Supreme Court prosecutor Evangelos Kroustallakis to set in motion an investigation into Kouris’s claims that more government members are involved with Athanassoulis. New Democracy party spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos charged Simitis was «another Pontius Pilate, sending the issue, nebulously, to the judiciary.» He called for a parliamentary probe. Simitis has been in close contact with aides in recent days, fearing suggestions of scandal will overshadow Athens’s successful handling of the EU Accession Treaty signing and informal summit last week. «At the same time – is it by chance? – a bad climate has been created on the domestic scene with accusations and claims that concern business interests and ensnare political figures in one way or another, creating impressions,» Simitis said. «Political figures, all political figures, have their personal history and responsibility. They are judged daily for their ethics and public behavior. We must distinguish the substantial from the efforts to make impressions,» he added. «The government… does not involve itself with the clashes of (business) interests.»