Premier hits back on bonds claims

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday reiterated his pledge to complete a thorough investigation into the pension fund scandal that has hurt the government’s popularity less than a year before elections. Speaking in Parliament, the premier accused the main opposition PASOK party of irresponsibility in its reaction to news reports that a pension fund had overpaid nearly -5 million for a state bond. He said the Socialists were merely seeking petty political gains. «Wherever there are shadows and suspicious activities, they will be investigated in detail. Wherever violations have been committed, they will be passed on to the justice system,» said Karamanlis. The scandal that broke out over a month ago has led to allegations of corrupt government-appointed managers handling millions of euros owned by pension funds. Karamanlis sacked Labor Minister Savvas Tsitou-ridis last weekend to help ease mounting pressure on the government. One poll held after the sacking showed that ND’s lead had narrowed from 1.7 percent to 1.1 percent over the last few days. Karamanlis said voters had been misled to believe that pension funds were no longer in a position to meet payments. «The truth is that the value of fund assets in stocks, bonds and mutual funds had fallen between 1999-2002 (when PASOK was in power), not now,» added Karamanlis. The government maintains that the value of pension fund assets increased from 22 billion euros to 31 billion euros in 2003.