OTE charged over deal in Bulgaria

A senior prosecutor has filed criminal charges (including fraud and money laundering) against senior management of Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) and Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) for allegedly rigging an auction that allowed the Greek company to purchase a license to operate a mobile telephone company in Bulgaria. Chief Athens Prosecutor Dimitris Asprogerakas filed charges a month ago, but they were kept secret ahead of the elections because of the seriousness of the issue. The issue is now being examined by an investigating magistrate. The charges came after a judicial probe that began following a series of reports by Kathimerini from March 8 to June 30, 2002, which claimed that OTE had paid its ostensible competitor 3.5 billion drachmas (just over a million euros) to allow it to win the Bulgarian license in December 2000. Prosecutor Yiannis Provataris conducted a two-year investigation which included information from the Italian judiciary. Asprogerakas took over when Provataris was promoted to deputy prosecutor of the court of appeals. The charges involve criminal fraud against the Bulgarian state for rigging the auction. This allegedly took place in a deal in the Athens suburb of Psychico seven days before the auction, which happened on December 17, 2000. The deal, on unofficial paper, was allegedly signed by then OTE chairman and managing director Nikos Manasis, and Roberto Rovera, then managing director of TIM’s Greek subsidiary, STET Hellas. With this, the two tried to justify OTE and its mobile subsidiary COSMOTE paying STET and TIM two installments of 2 billion drachmas by January 31, 2001 and 1.5 billion by July 31, 2001. Charges of being accomplices in criminal fraud are expected to involve officials of OTE, TIM and STET. Also, the charge of money laundering (a felony under Law 2331/95) involves officials at STET which, through the Manasis-Rovera deal gained 2 billion drachmas, 1 billion of which was put on the books in 2000 and the other billion the following year.

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