NEWS

Defense deal queried

Benefits worth $73 million in investments, tied to Greece’s purchase in 1999 of a Russian Tor-M1 short-range anti-aircraft system, have still not arrived, sparking a judicial investigation in Russia, according to a question tabled in Parliament yesterday. The murder of two senior Russian defense officials could be linked to this, the question suggested. Spilios Spiliotopoulos, New Democracy’s shadow defense minister, who raised the issue, said that no offset benefits had been paid, despite the Russian government’s repeated assurances. He charged that by March 2003, no one from the Greek Defense Ministry had shown interest in the matter. Only Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou raised the issue on a visit to Moscow last June, Spiliotopoulos said. The minister’s visit came shortly after Igor Klimov, acting general director of the Almaz-Antei Concern, and Sergei Shchitko, commercial director of Almaz-Antei’s subsidiary RATEP, were killed in separate attacks by gunmen in Moscow on June 6, 2003. The issue stems from a deal worth $474 million signed on February 26, 1999 by then Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos for the air defense system. Greece had an option of buying up to $1 billion worth. The deal included offset benefits worth $73 million. Last March, Klimov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed to head the company, found that a gang within the company had withdrawn the $73 million. Klimov requested a prosecutor’s investigation and visited Athens in May where he met with the Defense Ministry’s general secretary for defense investments. Twenty days later, Klimov and Shchitko were murdered. Just afterward, a Russian prosecutor ordered the house arrest of I. Vorobyev, an Almaz-Antei executive who negotiated the offset benefits with the Greek general secretary of arms procurements, then PASOK MP Yiannis Sbokos, Spiliotopoulos said. Russian media reported that the prosecutor found that Vorobyev had deposited $45 million in Montenegro, $12 million in Moscow and the other $16 million in the Cayman Islands. Spiliotopoulos demands that the Defense Ministry say what Greek officials did about it from 1999 until Klimov’s visit, why a Greek prosecutor was not assigned and which Greek companies were involved.