Protopappas says he will sue publisher

A publisher’s quarrel with a business partner, which has led to accusations that close aides of Prime Minister Costas Simitis were involved in irregular dealings, yesterday caught up with its most senior target so far. Press Minister Christos Protopappas, the government spokesman, was forced to deny a front-page report in Giorgos Kouris’s Avriani newspaper that businessman Athanassios Athanassoulis’s Altec computer firm had contributed 200 million drachmas (587,000 euros) to his 1996 election campaign. Kouris and Athanassoulis are fighting over Alter television channel. For weeks, Kouris claimed Athanassoulis had close ties with members of Simitis’s «reformist» wing of PASOK. Last Tuesday, Simitis fired his deputy public order minister, Vangelis Malesios, when Avriani revealed he was living in an apartment owned by Athanassoulis without paying rent. Avriani then claimed State Minister Stefanos Manikas and PASOK Executive Bureau member Michalis Neonakis had made money by trading in Altec stock. The two have denied any impropriety. Yesterday it was Protopappas’s turn. The government spokesman said his election campaign was «transparent,» that he had all the receipts to prove it and they had been audited by relevant committees. Avriani’s report was «unethical, groundless and libelous,» Protopappas said. «I have never accepted financial contributions, in any form, from Mr Athanassoulis or the Altec Group or other businessmen. Not one drachma,» he said. «Mr Kouris is a liar and a slanderer… I will immediately file suit against him and pursue it to the end. I will not accept his apology.» Kouris was in no mood to apologize, telling reporters Protopappas is a «liar» and insisting on the truth of his own claims. Altec said Kouris’s «vulgar claims are completely groundless.» The justice minister has asked Supreme Court prosecutor Evangelos Kroustallakis to order an inquiry into all of Kouris’s claims. The New Democracy party demanded: «Mr Simitis must stop playing the role of Pontius Pilate and accept ND’s proposal for a parliamentary inquiry,» into what it termed the «acts of a corrupt government.»