Ex-minister linked to offshore firm by relative

In an unexpected turn in the investigation of an extensive money laundering network centered on former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, one of several of his relatives implicated in the probe directly linked the socialist veteran to one of three offshore firms believed to have been used to launder millions of euros in kickbacks.

Meanwhile, the ex-minister?s daughter, Areti Tsochatzopoulou, joined her father in custody in Korydallos Prison after testifying before an investigating magistrate, also on money laundering charges.

The magistrate, Gavriil Mallis, was unconvinced by the explanations given by the former minister?s daughter regarding her acquisition of a 402-square-meter property in the affluent Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki. Tsochatzopoulou is accused of profiting from her father?s alleged activities and of engaging in a bogus transaction to buy the Kolonaki residence. Her lawyer, Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, said his client had bought the property with cash from the sale of another home.

The magistrate was more lenient with a more distant relative of Tsochatzopoulos — his wife?s aunt, Ekaterini Stamati — and approved her release after she linked the ex-minister to the offshore firm Torcasso. Stamati is being charged in connection with suspicious bank transfers, including one for 3 million drachmas (or 8,800 euros) that was paid into her account at Emporiki Bank by Torcasso in April 2001. She reportedly testified that most of these payments were made by her son-in-law for the construction of a home in the resort of Porto Rafti but that on one occassion, while on vacation, he had said that he would ask Tsochatzopoulos to arrange for the money to be deposited. This was the payment that, it transpires, was made by Torcasso, Stamati said. Sources said she complained of ?being treated like a professional criminal because I once, and unknowingly, received 3 million drachmas from a firm associated with Mr Tsochatzopoulos.?

The ex-minister?s wife, Viki Stamati, is to testify today, as is her brother Panayiotis. She is expected to insist that her purchase of a home on the exclusive Dionysiou Areopagitou Street was funded by legally acquired cash, including an 800,000 euro bank loan.