Charges due within days

A magistrate is expected by the end of the week to name and charge the main suspects in the alleged blackmail of former Culture Ministry general secretary Christos Zachopoulos, thereby upsetting the government’s bid to shake off the fallout from the scandal, sources said yesterday. Magistrate Dimitris Economou is close to wrapping up this stage of the investigation, after having questioned witnesses and received information about the telephone conversations of key suspects in the case. One of the deciding factors in the charges to be issued is whether the magistrate will link a deposit of some 5 million euros in the bank account of journalist and Proto Thema newspaper co-owner Themos Anastasiadis with the alleged blackmail of Zachopoulos. Anastasiadis denies that there is anything shady about the origins of the money. Economou is waiting for the financial crimes squad to conclude its investigation before making a final judgment on the issue. The government is bracing for the moment when the magistrate charges specific individuals as it is sure to bring the case back to the fore after a period of relative quiet for the ruling conservatives. The government has been trying to shed the stigma of scandal in the past few days and has been seeking to promote its policies. Following an Inner Cabinet meeting yesterday, Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis revealed plans to make it a criminal offense for public officials to give or receive bribes. This is seen as a clear move by New Democracy to distance itself from the recent scandals, including the allegations of bribery by Germany’s Siemens, which are currently under investigation. Government sources said that the conservatives intend to focus next week on the proposed pension reforms in another bid to change the topic of conversation among voters and in the media. However, Deputy Environment and Public Works Minister Themistoklis Xanthopoulos declared yesterday his opposition to plans to unify tens of pension funds, saying that the «healthy» funds should not be thrown in with those that are «falling to pieces.»