Ex-minister denies arms claims

Akis Tsochadzopoulos testified yesterday before the parliamentary committee investigating arms deals under the previous PASOK government, insisting that he had done no wrong during his stint as defense minister. Tsochadzopoulos’s appearance before the panel lacked the sparks some had expected, as the former minister flatly denied accusations that the Russian-made TOR-M1 missile systems purchased when he was defense minister were useless. Greece bought 21 TOR-M1 systems between 1998 and 2000 for some $150 million to defend army units in the eastern Aegean but former military officials have claimed that they were not the best choice for the Greek army. Tsochadzopoulos said that, although the missiles may be lying idle at present, all that was left was for them to be hooked up with the overall air defense system. He claimed arms manufacturer Antey had sent a plan to the Defense Ministry in the summer for doing exactly this. Tsochadzopoulos said that for unknown reasons, current Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos had not proceeded with it. Meanwhile, Vlasis Kambouroglou, a businessman who headed a company that was handling the sale offsets that Antey was meant to hand over to the Greek government, told the committee late on Tuesday that this part of the deal was too complicated to ever be realized. Antey sidestepped giving the government a 63-million-euro letter of guarantee regarding sale offsets. Instead, Greece accepted guarantees from the Russian government but so far has only 2 percent of the offsets – benefits customarily offered to the purchaser in major weapons deals. Tsochadzopoulos has been heavily criticized for signing the deal.