Bribery trial of ex-minister Tsochatzopoulos and 18 others begins on Monday

Former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who is accused of accepting bribes and laundering money, is due to go on trial with another 18 suspects at the Athens Appeals Court today in the first criminal trial of a key political figure in Greece for 23 years.

Tsochatzopoulos, who served as defense minister between 1996 and 2001, allegedly took bribes as part of the process of awarding procurement contracts. Two deals in particular have been under scrutiny: for the TOR M1 missile defense system and the purchase of submarines for the Hellenic Navy.

Prosecutors believe that some 160 million euros in bribes was paid as part of the two deals. With the help of former Defense Ministry official Yiannis Sbokos and others, Tsochatzopoulos allegedly siphoned this money off using offshore companies. So far, authorities have traced 57 million euros. The ex-minister denies the charges.

Sources close to the ex-minister indicate that in the face of the evidence against him, he will try to convince the court that his prosecution is politically motivated and that he did not bear sole responsibility for approving the contracts in question.

On Friday, he made a request for the other members of the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA), which approved the deals, to appear in court. This includes former Prime Minister Costas Simitis. The request was declined but Tsochatzopoulos is expected to bring the matter up again once the trial starts.

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