Papandreou treads softly on probes

PASOK leader George Papandreou yesterday distanced himself from the two former defense ministers accused of corrupt procurement deals, and emphasized his intentions not to use the election of a new president as an opportunity to square up to the ruling conservatives. Only a week after Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s uttered his notorious «pimp» comments at a taverna meal with 40 of his MPs, George Papandreou virtually followed in his footsteps by inviting parliamentary correspondents to a central Athens eatery. The opposition leader used the opportunity to brief journalists on his position with regard to the issues dominating the political agenda. In relation to the parliamentary investigation into the dealings of former PASOK defense ministers Yiannos Papantoniou and Akis Tsochadzopoulos, due to start today, Papandreou told his fellow diners that he believed everyone was innocent until proven guilty but he accepted that nobody was above the law. Papandreou’s positioning seems to reflect how unsure his party is, as a whole, about what the outcome of the parliamentary committee’s work might be. As such, a hedging of bets seems best at the moment. This did not stop Papandreou from reiterating his belief that the investigations under way into the previous government’s work are solely politically motivated. The Socialist leader also seemed to confirm a report in Sunday’s Kathimerini suggesting PASOK might not seek to force early elections over the choice of Greece’s next president, saying he did not rule out any candidate, including current cabinet ministers. Papandreou criticized Karamanlis for his comments regarding the «five pimps» running the country’s political life, although he said that if the government was proposing a new law to combat corruption, he would fully support it. Meanwhile, Karamanlis emphasized his intention to rid the country of corruption during a speech at a conference organised by the International Herald Tribune last night, outlining measures which included reforming procurement and state tender regulations and passing a new law on media ownership.