Former PM and PASOK chief condemn ex-minister [Update]

Former Prime Minister Costas Simitis and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos on Wednesday both heaped heavy criticism on former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, appearing as witnesses at the latter’s appeal trial against his lengthy sentence for money laundering.

During four hours of testimony, Simitis described the kickbacks that Tsochatzopoulos is accused of pocketing as “wretchedness” and “shame.” “It’s sad that all these wretched things happened when I was prime minister, when efforts were under way to modernize the country,” he said, referring to the period between 1996 and 2004. Asked whether Tsochatzopoulos, who was defense minister from 1996 and 2001, would have been in a position to accept bribes, Simitis said, “It is possible, when the minister and the general secretary for procurements work together.” He added however that he would have intervened had he known about any illicit activities. “Of course I didn’t know.”

At one point in the proceedings, Simitis spoke to Tsochatzopoulos directly, saying: “So many things happened at your ministry. I do not tolerate the fact that you did not do what you were supposed to and that you did not report what happened.” The ex-minister blurted out in response, “There were no bribes, there were no bribes.”

Simitis claimed that the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense which he chaired took political decisions relating to “which weapon would be purchased and from which country” but had no role in the details of its acquisition.

The ex-premier also told the court that his government had decided to increase defense spending in the wake of the Imia crisis with Turkey in 1996 but that after the Helsinki Summit in 1999, when Ankara committed to settling any territorial disputes with Greece via The Hague, there was a decision to scale back on this expenditure. Simitis said Tsochatzopoulos was the only member of his government that objected to the spending cut.

Venizelos was also in court and in his testimony accused Tsochatzopoulos of playing a key role in the “shrinking of PASOK.” “I have suffered the political damage of this case – me and the party, politically and ethically,” he said. At another point in the hearing, he claimed that “behind every major scandal in Greece, there is a German company.”

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