Ex-minister’s cousin reveals all

Nikos Zigras, the first cousin and longtime confidant of former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, has allegedly admitted to managing millions of euros in kickbacks the latter is alleged to have pocketed during his time in office and to helping launder the money through the purchase of properties registered in the names of the ex-minister or his wife, Viki Stamati.

In nine hours of testimony before an investigating magistrate, Zigras is said to have implicated Tsochatzopoulos and Stamati, who are both in pretrial custody on money-laundering charges.

Zigras is one of several suspects implicated in a complex money-laundering network that Tsochatzopoulos is alleged to have benefited from during and after his stint as defense minister between 1996 and 2001. Until Tuesday?s marathon testimony, he had not opened up to investigating magistrate Gavriil Mallis, who is handling the case, possibly due to his close relationship with Tsochatzopoulos. According to sources, Zigras visited Mallis of his own volition and spoke openly about the ex-minister and the latter?s wife. He allegedly told the magistrate that Stamati was fully aware that the money used to buy a luxury home on the capital?s exclusive Dionysiou Areopagitou Street had come from her husband?s kickbacks.

Zigras reportedly made a wealth of revelations during his cross-examination by Mallis and by prosecutor Evgenia Kyvelou, who was involved in compiling the scathing report that led to Tsochatzopoulos?s dramatic arrest in April. According to sources, Zigras said he was replaced as manager of Tsochatzopoulos?s illicit dealings in 2004 by Giorgos Sachpatzidis, a businessman who is already a suspect in the investigation. Zigras also gave the names of new suspects, including a government official who has yet to be implicated.

After details of Zigras?s testimony was leaked, Tsochatzopoulos was quoted as saying from jail that his cousin had always been envious of him while Stamati allegedly described the ex-minister?s one-time confidant as a ?snake.?

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