Vote on arms probe

Parliament debated yesterday ahead of a midnight vote on the scope and makeup of a committee to probe arms deals by two former defense ministers. A proposal was put forward by 116 New Democracy MPs whereby the committee would examine in detail two prosecutor’s reports relating to the military’s purchase of six US-made radar units and 50 Russian short-range air defense missiles while Akis Tsochadzopoulos and Yiannos Papantoniou were defense ministers. The former Socialist ministers have immunity from prosecution, but Parliament has the power to lift it. PASOK, meanwhile, made a suggestion of its own, via 71 of its MPs, proposing the probe cover any deals signed by the ruling conservatives since they came to power. A majority vote – at least 151 out of the 300 MPs – would be needed in order for either of the proposals to be adopted. The vote, due at midnight, would also decide the scope of the investigation, as well as how many members will sit on the committee and when it would need to submit its findings. In the buildup to the vote, the main parliamentary parties fought it out. Christos Zois, a New Democracy MP, said Parliament was neither convicting nor judging but simply asking questions that demanded answers. Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos said the government would cancel the contract with US company Raytheon for the radars if they proved unsuitable during tests next month. He added that the State had been ill served by the deal, which involved the previous government paying 90 percent of the cost before delivery of the systems. Yiannos Papantoniou told Parliament that the prosecutor’s reports were «supported by false evidence and hid crucial events.» «I don’t accept lessons in transparency from anyone,» he added while emphasizing his innocence of any wrongdoing. Alekos Alavanos of Synaspismos Left Coalition said that 15 investigations by parliamentary committees in the past had proved unfruitful. He claimed Greece spent 4.4 percent of GDP on arms, the highest proportion in the EU. Meanwhile, PASOK officials met with party leader George Papandreou yesterday and made it clear they want to move away from the negative atmosphere around alleged scandals. Their plan is to have Papandreou spearhead a three month «social agenda,» focusing on issues such as education, agriculture and the high cost of living.