Defense probe grows

The Defense Ministry yesterday forwarded two cases relating to the procurement of arms by the previous government for further investigation by prosecutors. It also looks increasingly likely that a parliamentary committee will be formed to look at a report into the purchase of two other weapons systems. The new cases relate to the purchase of four Russian hovercraft in 2000 and a contract to buy 20 NH-90 helicopters in 2003 from a multinational company based in France. The hovercraft deal was worth 62.8 million euros. The helicopter contract amounted to 699 million euros. Files on these cases were sent to Athens chief prosecutor Dimitris Papangelopoulos yesterday, by the head of economic planning at the Defense Ministry, Giorgos Zorbas, with the overall allegation that the two deals harmed the Greek State. The report claims that among other things, several procurement rules were broken, the hovercraft have never been used and each helicopter was overpriced by 8 million euros. Another legal brief was submitted to Parliament on Tuesday by prosecutor Panayiotis Athanassiou, suggesting that former Socialist defense ministers Akis Tsochadzopoulos and Yiannos Papantoniou may bear legal responsibility for any laws that were violated in the army’s purchase of US-made radar units and Russian short-range air defense missiles. The ruling conservatives have proposed the formation of a parliamentary committee to examine the cases of alleged malpractice in arms procurement by the previous PASOK government, when Parliament reconvenes. Although the Socialists now seem likely to accept the establishment of an all-party committee to examine the prosecutor’s findings, the matter threatens to cause serious political tension between the government and opposition over the coming months. It is thought PASOK will ask Parliament to ensure that the committee conducts its work within three months. The opposition is worried the issue will become a political thorn in its side, which will leave it in a detrimental position should early elections be called next year if there is disagreement over the election of a new president of the republic. It is also possible PASOK will ask for the investigation to be extended to cover the tenure of current Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos, in the hope it can gain some political ground.