Arms findings submitted

Ruling conservative MPs on the parliamentary committee investigating arms deals signed by two former PASOK defense ministers yesterday blamed Yiannos Papantoniou and Akis Tsochadzopoulos for serious failings while in office but stopped short of claiming they intentionally broke procurement rules. The New Democracy deputies handed their final report to committee president Yiannis Tragakis yesterday, who also received three other findings – from PASOK, Communist and Synaspismos Left Coalition MPs sitting on the panel. The conservatives claimed that the process of purchasing the Russian TOR M1 missile defense systems, when Tsochadzopoulos was defense minister, was «totally irregular.» They also labeled the claim that Greece urgently needed to buy the weapons after the Imia crisis of 1996, which almost led to war with Turkey, merely a «pretext» for their purchase. The ND findings criticize then Defense Minister Tsochadzopoulos for failing to obtain an irreversible letter of guarantee for the missile system before signing the deal. The ruling party’s MPs suggest that the Defense Ministry should have broken the contract with the Russians and forced them to pay compensation of some $85 million. The deputies allege that by not doing this, Tsochadzopoulos and his aides had acted against the public interest. As for the purchase of six TPQ 37 radars during Papantoniou’s time in office, the New Democracy report claims the deal represented the first time in the history of the Defense Ministry that it had gone against the advice of the military hierarchy, which asked that the systems should not be bought. The conservative deputies also claimed that valuable man hours were lost during repeated tests by the army to iron out problems with the radar systems, which, they claim, the manufacturer should have been responsible for. PASOK MPs labelled the inquiry a «fabrication» which had disintegrated, claiming the two contracts being scrutinized had actually benefited Greece by more than $90 million. The four reports will be submitted to Parliament Speaker Anna Psarouda-Benaki today. A plenary session of Parliament will then have the final say on any further action.