Bribery in the private sector is to become a legal offense for the first time in Greece as part of tougher legislation to combat corruption, the government said yesterday, while it continued to deal with the fallout from the alleged blackmail of the Mevgal dairy firm. Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras said that he would be fast-tracking through Parliament a bill which introduces a range of new laws to tackle graft in the private sector. Papaligouras made the statement after meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis but did not give a specific time frame for when the legislation will be put before MPs. Anyone found guilty of bribery in the private sector could face between one and five years in jail – the same penalty as civil servants. Employees of private firms who accept bribes will also face a jail sentence of up to five years. The prospective law also makes it an offense, for the first time, to «offer to exercise influence.» This means that anyone who is found to have promised to influence people involved in a decision-making process in exchange for a reward could face between three months and five years in jail. Bribing an MP or member of local government will also become an offense under the law and will be punishable with one to two years in jail. The bill also seeks to clamp down on any companies or individuals who deliberately issue invoices or receipts with incorrect data. Meanwhile, the government yesterday played down allegations that a close aide to Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis had illegally obtained two jobs in the civil service. Giorgos Katsikaris is chief political adviser to Tsitouridis but it was revealed that he also had a place on a state tax inspection body. However, the Labor Ministry issued a statement that no rules had been broken. «I would like to believe that there is nothing untoward,» said government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. PASOK called for the resignation of Tsitouridis after it was revealed that two of the suspects implicated in the Mevgal case were appointed to Labor Ministry committees. Government sources said yesterday that the ruling conservatives are dismayed that some of the media seem to be trying to force Tsitouridis out of office.