Missile case may hide dirty cash

An investigation into the purchase of air defense missiles will likely lead to a retired army officer facing charges of money laundering after a large sum of money was found in his bank account, sources told Kathimerini yesterday. Three Athens prosecutors are looking into allegations that the Greek state was damaged by the purchase of the Russian-made TOR-M1 missiles between 1998 and 2000. Their probe has mainly focused on four high-ranking army officers who have now retired. Sources revealed that 300,000 euros was found in the bank account of one of the ex-military men. The prosecutors, however, also seem to be concluding that certain politicians at the time were aware that something illegal was going on, sources added. Akis Tsochadzopoulos, who was then defense minister in the PASOK government, faced a parliamentary committee in December 2004 which investigated the missile deal. He denied accusations that the missile systems purchased when he was defense minister were useless. Greece bought 21 TOR-M1 systems between 1998 and 2000 for some $473 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. Many of the missiles are still not operational. The parliamentary committee focused particularly on the fact that manufacturer Antey sidestepped giving the Greek government a 63-million-euro letter of guarantee regarding sale offsets. Instead, Greece accepted guarantees from the Russian government but so far has only a small amount of the offsets – benefits customarily offered to the purchaser in major weapons deals. Tsochadzopoulos has been heavily criticized for signing the deal. The parliamentary committee, however, could not reach a joint conclusion on the former minister’s culpability as MPs were divided along party lines. But a criminal investigation was later launched.