Graft ?normal? in public sector says businessman

One of the businessmen that two Development Ministry employees attempted to bribe told Kathimerini on Wednesday that it was standard practice for civil servants to ask for a cut of any state funding that was disbursed for entrepreneurial schemes.

The two ministry employees were arrested on Tuesday after being caught red-handed accepting a 120,000-euro bribe in a sting operation. They had been holding back the disbursement of 13 million euros? worth of state aid for the construction of a new hotel complex in the Peloponnese.

Aristidis Markou, one of the two brothers who was involved in the project, told Kathimerini that ministry employees had been making demands for bribes since a year after the paperwork for the grant was submitted in 2005. He said initially there were demands of 700,000 euros. Markou and his brother, who already own a hotel, refused to pay the money and the approval for the funding remained locked up in a drawer at the ministry. He claimed he later discovered it was ?normal? for ministry officials to ask for a bribe equal to between 2 and 4 percent of the value of the grant.

Markou said he met with the then development minister, Yiannis Papathanasiou, to discuss the matter. Speaking to Skai TV, Papathanasiou, who later became finance minister, acknowledged that a meeting took place to discuss the grant but that Markou only made vague references to encountering problems. According to the former minister, the hotelier refused to give more details when prompted.

The case has highlighted the difficulties that the Greek justice system has in dealing with cases of alleged corruption. About 90 percent of investigations carried out by public prosecutors relate to claims of graft in the civil service and a law passed last October designed to speed up the process has yet to be implemented.

The law sets maximum periods for the cases to be tried but judicial authorities cite a lack of judges to hear them within the deadlines set by the legislation. Since the law was passed last year, no ruling has been issued for a case of alleged public sector corruption.

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