NEWS

PM defies ‘pressure’

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday struck back at allegations of scandal against several of his ministers by casting doubt on the motives of those who circulated the stories and by saying that he will not be distracted from his immediate priority, Greece’s six-month presidency of the European Union. «We are not distracted by political chattering because we are devoted to politics… Is it a coincidence that all this noise about scandals occurred at the same time as the best moment in our presidency so far, Cyprus’s accession to the EU, and the signing of the Accession Act in Athens? I can ascertain this: Those who stage-manage this issue, in their foolish efforts, act against the country’s interests. We are not going to follow those who create an atmosphere of crisis by adapting reflexively our behavior to theirs… I do not succumb to pressure,» Simitis said. Characteristically, Simitis prefaced his statement by referring to today’s and tomorrow’s meeting with Japanese Premier Junichiro Koizumi. The allegations come from publisher Giorgos Kouris, who, in his daily Avriani newspaper, claimed that a number of ministers had unwarranted relations with an ex-business partner of his, Athanassios Athanassoulis. Kouris’s allegations have already led to the dismissal of Deputy Public Order Vangelis Malesios, who admitted that he was living in one of Athanassoulis’s properties rent-free. Two other ministers, State Minister Stefanos Manikas and Press Minister Christos Protopappas, have hit back at allegations of receiving either money or stock tips from Athanassoulis, whose listed firm, Altec, has been suspended from trade pending investigation. Protopappas yesterday sued Kouris for the second time over allegations concerning a vacation house he has built near Athens. Kouris, whose own listed company, Alter TV, is also suspended from trade, has used his colorful, sensationalist paper to intervene in the affairs of the ruling Socialist party for over two decades. His relationship with the party’s successive leaders has been volatile and often self-serving: He is known to have severely attacked a finance minister after failing to secure a big loan from the National Bank of Greece. Simitis’s opponents, however, believe, or hope, that he has enough insider knowledge to know where the bodies are buried.