Minister is backed after aide resigns

After the resignation of a senior Interior Ministry aide on Wednesday night after it was revealed that he doubled as a private consultant on employment issues for a state-controlled bank, the government yesterday attempted to stem the flow of calls for the resignation of the minister himself by declaring the matter «closed.» «There is no question of political responsibility. No crime has been committed. The prime minister has full confidence in the minister,» said government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos accepted the resignation of his top press aide, Thanassis Houpis, after it emerged on Wednesday that Houpis had also worked as a consultant to the Postal Savings Bank. Houpis helped draw up the conditions for the hiring of hundreds of personnel by the bank. Apart from suggesting a conflict of interest on the part of Houpis, the revelation sparked controversy because appointments in the state sector offer permanent employment and by law, the hiring of candidates must be conducted through the Supreme Board for Personnel Selection (ASEP), an independent state agency. By having Houpis, one of its officials, involved in the alleged bypassing of this process, the government opened itself up to accusations that the hiring process was being manipulated to favor candidates who were New Democracy supporters. In a statement made public yesterday, Houpis denied that he had anything to do with the actual evaluation or hiring of personnel. PASOK spokesman Nikos Athanassakis, though, called for Pavlopoulos’s head and said that as long as the Interior Minister remained in office, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis would bear responsibility for the matter. Roussopoulos admitted that it had not been «morally acceptable» for Houpis to hold both positions but that Pavlopoulos held absolutely no responsibility for the actions of the man in charge of his press office as he had not been aware that he held the other job. The bank issued a statement yesterday saying it needed to hire 672 employees and since the ASEP process was time-consuming, it had asked a number of private consultants, including Houpis, to help out. It insisted Houpis had nothing to do with the evaluation process.

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