Arms testimony faults ex-minister

Embattled former Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, under parliamentary investigation for arms deals carried out by the previous, Socialist government, disregarded the law by allowing a supplier to avoid tabling a letter of guarantee, according to a former ministerial aide’s testimony. The testimony by the former Defense Ministry general director for armaments, Yiannis Sbokos, to a prosecutor carrying out an investigation into the cases has been made available to Kathimerini. Tomorrow, a parliamentary committee is to start interviewing witnesses on the arms deals, ahead of determining whether there is enough evidence to allow the lifting of Tsochadzopoulos’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution. Former Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, who succeeded Tsochadzopoulos, is also under investigation. Sbokos told a prosecutor investigating Greece’s purchase of the Russian Tor M1 air defense missile system that Tsochadzopoulos was personally responsible for letting manufacturers Antey sidestep giving Greece a 63-million-euro letter of guarantee regarding sale offsets. Instead, Greece accepted guarantees from the Russian government that the deal would be fully honored. However, five years after the missile purchase, only 2 percent of the offsets – benefits customarily offered to the purchaser in major weapons deals – have materialized. Sbokos told the prosecutor that ministry officials involved in the negotiations had insisted on Antey tabling a letter of guarantee, which the company refused to do. «After that, the only person responsible for the decision was the minister of defense, who decided that the government of the Russian Federation should provide guarantees,» he said. According to Greek law on procurements, a letter of guarantee covering at least 10 percent of the offset value should have been provided by the supplier. «[The ministry’s intention was] that the companies should keep to the time schedules they had submitted, through the contract which was de facto loose in its terms, rather than [for Greece to cash in] on the letter of guarantee,» Sbokos said. Greece bought 21 Tor M1 systems to defend army units in the eastern Aegean. But former military officials involved in the deal have told the prosecutor that the Russian system was not the best choice available for Greece’s army.