Tender loophole now found legal

Adding another knot to the legal and political tangle shrouding the system of awarding public contracts, Greece’s highest state auditing body yesterday upheld a legal loophole in the constitutional ban on media barons winning state tenders. The decision by the State Auditing Council’s Fifth Section was made public one day after the Fourth Section of the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, ruled that a law exempting the spouses and relatives of major media shareholders from the ban – provided they can prove their financial independence from the shareholders in question – is unconstitutional. The question of access by powerful businessmen – who are often also involved in media enterprises – to state contracts is politically explosive. New Democracy made the matter a major slogan before its electoral victory in March, claiming that under the previous government some moguls had won lucrative state deals, mainly in the construction sector, on the basis of their media clout. The matter was revived early last month when Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis employed strong language – his aides insisted that he had not used the word «pimps» – to claim that five, unnamed, businessmen thought they could run the country. A few days later, the National Broadcasting Council (ESR), one of whose duties is to certify that public contractors have no illegal media holdings, refused to do so for Aktor SA – Greece’s largest construction firm which carried out most of the major construction works in Attica ahead of the Olympics, when PASOK was in government. On Tuesday, the Council of State found the exemption unconstitutional in a suit by a construction firm that had lost a state deal. The matter was referred to the court’s plenary session for a final decision.