Minister puts up defense over ‘graft’

Under fire, Labor Minister Savvas Tsitouridis hit back at his critics yesterday, insisting that he had done nothing wrong following recent corruption allegations. Meanwhile, milk producers accused dairy firms of forming a cartel to buy milk at artificially low prices. «I will answer questions when I feel it is necessary. Meanwhile, I have a lot of work to do,» Tsitouridis told reporters who had gathered outside the ministry. He also made a plea for journalists to stay away from his children after images of his daughter at school were shown on television. Tsitouridis has been under strain after it was revealed that two of the suspects in the Mevgal blackmail case had been appointed to a Labor Ministry committee. The pressure intensified when it was made public that the minister’s chief adviser holds two positions in the civil service. The government circulated documents yesterday which indicated that previous PASOK labor ministers Miltiadis Papaioannou and Dimitris Reppas had also employed aides who simultaneously held other public sector positions. The Socialists insisted that no rules were broken. Government sources indicated that Tsitouridis was coming under an unacceptable amount of pressure from some sections of the media because he has prompted the main social security fund IKA to try to collect outstanding contributions from construction firms and media companies. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Committee of Greek Milk Producers accused dairy firms of colluding to keep artificially low the price at which they buy milk. They said the allegedly illegal practice was forcing some producers out of business. Committee member Giorgos Kefalas said that some 13,000 producers had shut down over the last 10 years, leaving only 6,500 still operating. He said it cost 0.36 euros to produce a liter of milk but dairy firms were buying the product for 0.33 euros per liter. The unionists also charged the dairy companies with making huge profits by selling milk at high prices.