Zacharo fire aid scrutinized

The prosecutor’s office in Pyrgos in the Peloponnese has launched an investigation into allegations that almost 2 million euros in financial aid from the Australian government, destined for people afflicted by last summer’s forest fires, was used to build a new town hall in Zacharo. Councilors Giorgos Bousbouras and Giorgos Vassilopoulos have accused Zacharo Mayor Pantazis Chronopoulos of using the money without approval, not holding a proper tender and building the town hall in a green belt. Chronopoulos denies any wrongdoing, as does the head of the Red Cross in Greece, Andreas Martinis, who allegedly gave the green light for some 1.8 million euros given to his organization by Australia after the fires in the Peloponnese to be used for the project. Speaking to Kathimerini yesterday, Martinis suggested the councilors might be harboring a grudge. «If one of the accusers is an engineer, maybe he is interested in having a better chance of being awarded the tender,» he said. «The councilors had a duty to inform me of any mistakes they thought I made.» Bousbouras and Vassilopoulos wrote to Australia’s ambassador in Greece, Jeremy Newman, about the use of the funds. In reply, Newman confirmed that the donation had been intended for fire victims. «The Australian funding was provided to the Hellenic Red Cross special emergency fund for victims of fire for the general purpose of helping with the relief effort,» he said. Martinis said that on June 20 he had personally requested that the funding for the 1,377-square-meter building stop until the controversy is cleared up. The building has been designed to house a medical center as well as the regular municipal services. Martinis denied that the Hellenic Red Cross had any involvement in the tender process for the project, which will cost just over 1.8 million euros.