Tender bill set to claim first victim

In what looks like first blood to the government in its bid to ban media barons access to state contracts, one of Greece’s biggest construction magnates is expected within the next few days to announce the sale of his publishing group, Pegasus. Although there have been no official announcements so far from either Pegasus – which counts the Ethnos and Imerissia dailies among its stable, and holds a 21 percent stake in Mega television channel – or shipping magnate Theodoros Angelopoulos, who is reportedly seeking to buy the group, the deal is believed to be in its final stages. Pegasus is controlled by Giorgos Bobolas, who is a major shareholder in the Hellenic Technodomiki-Aktor construction group which undertook many of the lucrative contracts in the run-up to the August Olympic Games. The Ethnos newspaper offered close backing to the previous, socialist government, and has been sharply critical of Costas Karamanlis’s conservative New Democracy administration which came to power after last March’s elections. Angelopoulos is one of Greece’s richest men, and the husband of Athens 2004 organising committee president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki – a former ND member of Parliament, whose relations with the government, however, became increasingly frosty in the final countdown to the Games opening ceremony. The deal, if finalized, would seem to be a direct result of a new bill tabled last month by ND that seeks to prevent media owners from using their influence to secure contracts for state tenders. The draft law – which was cleared by Parliament’s committee on justice on Wednesday and is expected to be passed by the house’s plenary session this week – stipulates that anyone owning 1 percent or more in media firms cannot bid for state contracts. The previous limit was 5 percent. Furthermore, it precludes the close relatives of such «major» media shareholders from access to public tenders. The bill also calls for all holdings in media firms, as well as in companies participating in tenders for major public works, to be registered. Rumors of the Pegasus sale caused the company’s share price to rocket over the past few days, hitting the daily ceiling of 20 percent on Thursday and Friday. Shares in other Bobolas holdings also gained considerably. This prompted the board of the Athens Stock Exchange to write to Pegasus asking to be briefed on the latest developments. A response is expected today.