NEWS

ND hands probe to Parliament

In an extremely rare step, the government yesterday requested that a parliamentary committee be set up to investigate the property exchange involving the Vatopedi Monastery after the two prosecutors probing the affair resigned earlier this week, alleging interference from their superiors. Government spokesman Theo-doros Roussopoulos announced to journalists that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had personally requested that the House begin an investigation into the land swap deal between the government and the state, which is alleged to have left taxpayers some 100 million euros worse off. It represents an about face for the ruling conservatives, who have fended off opposition calls for such committees to be set up in the past by saying that the judicial investigation had to be completed before the government could become involved. New Democracy was forced to take action after prosecutors Ilias Koliousis and Eleni Sotiropoulou tendered their resignations after alleging that they had concluded their investigation – pointing to the involvement of ministers in the deal – earlier this month but that their superiors blocked it from reaching Parliament. The claims sparked accusations of government interference in the judiciary in a bid to cover up the involvement of its ministers. «It has always been our position that justice must complete its investigation before an investigative parliamentary committee is set up,» said Roussopoulos. «After yesterday’s developments, the prime minister decided that New Democracy should ask today that an investigative committee be formed for the Vatopedi Monastery affair.» Roussopoulos also left the option open that a more thorough pre-judicial inquiry could be launched. «If evidence is supplied by justice, then that option is also open,» he said. It is thought that the conservatives have not closed the door on this possibility, as they know that PASOK will want a more thorough inquiry and, by not ruling it out, ND would be weakening the Socialists’ argument. The conservatives are also hoping that the parliamentary committee, which is likely to be set up next Wednesday, will look into the Vatopedi affair dating back to 1998, when PASOK was in power. However, commentators doubt whether anything particularly incriminating for the Socialists will be found, as the decisions that concluded the deal were taken by the conservative government. It is only the third time in the last 34 years that a government has asked the House to form an investigative committee. All in all, there have been 14 such committees since the fall of the military dictatorship. The Constitution affords the panels the same powers as a prosecutor, including forcing witnesses to testify. However, the parliamentary investigations have rarely led to any significant conclusions as the deputies of each party that is represented on the panel produce their own report when the committee has finished its investigation. The panels are usually made up of up to 30 MPs and take one to three months to conclude their probe. The most recent investigation took place between October and December 2004, when a series of arms deals conducted while PASOK was in power were examined. It did not lead to any further action against any of the politicians allegedly involved. Opposition wants tougher inquiry PASOK said yesterday that it was not satisfied by the government’s move to refer the Vatopedi case to a parliamentary committee and called for the House to set up a more powerful pre-judicial inquiry that could lead to ministers being charged. The Socialists said that yesterday’s decision by the ruling conservatives was simply designed to buy those involved some time. PASOK leader George Papandreou submitted a request to Parliament asking for an inquiry into whether current Deputy Foreign Minister Petros Doukas and former Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Basiakos had been involved in acts that were a breach of faith. The opposition party also wants the probe to look into whether government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos was the moral instigator of any crimes. The right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) backed PASOK’s position. «We want a pre-judicial inquiry so charges are filed against those responsible,» said LAOS leader Giorgos Karatzaferis. The two leftist parties, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the Communist Party (KKE), said that they would prefer a parliamentary committee to examine the case as this would ensure that the possible involvement of previous PASOK ministers could also be scrutinized. «Investigative parliamentary committees have characteristics that nobody should underestimate,» said SYRIZA MP Alekos Alavanos.