Details of the money trail revealed in ex-minister’s laundering trial

The key prosecution witness in the money-laundering trial of former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos made further incriminating claims on Thursday, describing how associates of the ex-Socialist strongman had allegedly used suitcases, as well as offshore firms and shell companies, to transfer kickbacks from defense contracts.

The transfer of the illicit cash “was carried out with dizzying speed between companies, bank accounts but also in suitcases containing cash,” according to Panayiotis Vlachos, a senior tax official who has probed most of the offshore firms allegedly used by Tsochatzopoulos and his 18 co-defendants to launder kickbacks.

There was an uproar in the court when Vlachos, asked who he believed was the ultimate recipient of the money, said “Tsochatzopoulos.”

Vlachos’s testimony was reinforced by that of the ex-minister’s first cousin and former confidant Nikos Zigras, conveyed to the court by his lawyer, according to which Zigras was given “a whole suitcase of cash” by former Cypriot Interior Minister Dinos Michailidis, money that had been destined for the purchase of a house on Deinocratous Street in the capital’s upscale Kolonaki district for Tsochatzopoulos’s daughter Areti.

Another significant claim by Vlachos, the tax official, was that the kickbacks amounted to 10 percent of the value of the contracts. For instance, in the case of a Russian tank purchase, the kickback allegedly pocketed by the ex-defense minister was 25 million euros, 10 percent of a 250-million-euro deposit paid by the Greek state.

The trial is to continue on Friday with questions from Zigras’s lawyer.