Gov’t shields minister

Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis was given the full backing of the government yesterday despite the revelation that two of the men who allegedly blackmailed the Mevgal dairy firm had been appointed to a ministry committee six days before news of the corruption case broke. The former director of the Competition Commission, Panayiotis Adamopoulos, and customs official Panayiotis Anagnostopoulos had recently been given places on a committee to assess public tenders, according to the Ta Nea newspaper. Tsitouridis issued a statement indicating that it was simply a coincidence that the two suspects had been handed the appointments. He said the Labor Ministry had «tens of committees.» The minister accused some people of «trying to link me to a case for which I am not responsible.» He was backed by government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, who said that all the government ministers have the support of the prime minister. However, PASOK leader George Papandreou again demanded the resignation of Tsitouridis and Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas for their «choices and lack of transparency.» Meanwhile, the former lawyer for Mevgal, Kriton Metaxopoulos, alleged yesterday that his office had been bugged and that someone had tried to remove papers relating to the dairy firm from the premises. Metaxopoulos yesterday gave evidence on the case to a magistrate and then faced an Athens Bar Association (ABA) disciplinary hearing. Mevgal reported the lawyer to the ABA because he made references to the alleged blackmail case in interviews after stepping down as the firm’s legal adviser. Metaxopoulos denied any wrongdoing. The Competition Commission is investigating the possibility that dairy firms have formed a cartel to keep the price of milk high. Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou told MPs yesterday that four supermarket chains had reduced the price of milk to 0.85-0.89 euros per liter since the watchdog began its probe. He did not reveal any details of the probe, as it is ongoing.