Altec probe goes deeper; minister sues

Press Minister Christos Protopappas, who is also government spokesman, yesterday filed suit against a newspaper publisher who has accused him of having taken 200 million drachmas (587,000 euros) from a businessman to fund his 1996 election campaign. Protopappas is the fourth aide of Prime Minister Costas Simitis to be accused in recent weeks by Avriani publisher Giorgos Kouris of close ties with Altec computer company owner Athanassios Athanassoulis. This has worried Simitis, who met with senior aides yesterday, prompting reports that he planned to take action soon after Easter. Telemachos Hytiris, a government spokesman, denied this. «It is a mistake to cultivate expectations in public opinion. The prime minister will not allow anyone else to determine government decisions, policies and priorities,» he said. «Regarding the clash of business interests and the ensuing commotion, he has issued instructions in every direction to investigate legality, transparency and the truth.» A judge is investigating Kouris’s claims. Also, the Finance Ministry’s fraud squad (SDOE) is probing Athanassoulis’s Altec company and Kouris’s own financial dealings and has reported many irregularities. On Wednesday, SDOE said it found fake Altec invoices worth 16 billion drachmas (47 million euros) for fake exports and services to companies in Belgium and the USA in 1999 and 2000. Yesterday SDOE reported irregularities at Altec, Microland and Alter TV for 1999-2002. Further, Altec revenues of $34 million are being investigated. The Athens Stock Exchange, acting on the allegations, suspended trading of Altec, Microland and Alter yesterday. Kouris, in turn, has to pay 250 million drachmas (733,675 euros) by next Wednesday. He is also accused of not paying salary taxes (622,000 euros) and other irregularities. Kouris and Athanassoulis are fighting over Alter TV, in which they were partners. In suing Kouris for slander, Protopappas said, «This is the beginning of the end for Mr Kouris.» The publisher, though, has steered his populist paper through several storms, usually in support of the PASOK party.