Move for more openness in party funding

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday requested the formation of a cross-party parliamentary committee with a view to tightening up the law on donations to political parties in the wake of the Siemens scandal, as a probe was launched into the finances of the company’s Greek subsidiary. Karamanlis wrote to Parliament Speaker Dimitris Sioufas requesting a panel of MPs be set up to look at possible changes to the law which would protect parties from possible abuse of the contributions system, which allows private individuals and firms to donate money, in addition to the state funding that the political groups receive. Karamanlis’s request comes at a time when polls indicate that the majority of Greek voters – six in 10 according to a Public Issue survey – are convinced that New Democracy and PASOK have received under-the-table payments from Siemens. The same proportion of respondents feel that neither party is determined to tackle corruption. The prime minister wants to be seen to be doing something to tackle the problem, especially after Culture Minister Michalis Liapis, who is a cousin of Karamanlis, has been forced to repeatedly deny any links to Siemens. In his letter, Karamanlis said he felt that the «transparency» of the system could be bolstered. The initiative was rejected by PASOK and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). The premier’s move, however, was also seen as one designed to quell unrest within his own party. Some members are unhappy with the handling of the Liapis affair. His predecessor as culture minister, Petros Tatoulis, suggested yesterday that Liapis should have resigned after it was revealed that he went on a trip in 2005 with the then head of Siemens Hellas and other businessmen. Meanwhile, the Economy and Finance Ministry said yesterday that it plans to audit the finances of Siemens’s subsidiary in Greece going back to 1997. The investigation is expected to take some six months, with one team rechecking the figures for 1997-2003 and another looking at the books from 2003 to the present. Sources said that the tax inspectors will be looking for indications that members of the firm used slush funds to bribe politicians in order to secure lucrative contracts.