Minister resigns as ND dodges inquiry vote

The Vatopedi scandal claimed its first victim yesterday, even before Parliament begins its investigation into the affair, as State Minister and government spokes-man Theodoros Roussopoulos resigned from his posts, saying that he wanted to be free to fight the allegations of corruption. «As a simple deputy, free from the obligations that come with being the government spokesman, I will be able to defend myself against the deceitful and totally unfounded attack that has been carried out on me recently,» he said in a statement. Alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros will take over as the main press representative, while Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos will look after the Press and Information Ministry. No replacement was named as minister of state but Karamanlis is expected to carry out a reshuffle soon. It had been rumored over the last few weeks that Roussopoulos, who has been the target of heavy criticism in the media and from opposition parties over his alleged crucial role in the property exchange, would step down. However, yesterday’s announcement appeared to be timed to coincide with the decision by New Democracy that its deputies would not participate in today’s vote on whether Parliament should hold a preliminary judicial inquiry into the claims that the land swap left state coffers some 100 million euros short. By not turning up for the debate and the subsequent vote, the conservatives effectively will make it impossible for the motion, put forward by PASOK, to be passed, as it would need the support of 151 MPs and there are only 148 opposition deputies. On Wednesday night, Parliament unanimously approved the setting up of a investigative committee to examine whether any members of the government were involved. But PASOK wanted the more powerful inquiry to be set up to examine the role of Roussopoulos and two other conservative ministers and possibly bring charges against them. Officially, New Democracy said it would not take part in the vote because there was no evidence indicating wrongdoing at a ministerial level and that taking part in the vote would «ridicule» the process. However, according to sources, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis took the decision to keep his MPs away from Parliament after aides told him that up to 15 ND deputies were prepared to cast blank votes in the ballot, which would have been a public relations disaster. The government’s decision not to take part today was roundly condemned by all the opposition parties. As things stand, the parliamentary committee approved in the midnight vote on Wednesday will begin its work on October 30 and will have until December 15 to conclude its probe. The 23 deputies – 12 from ND, eight from PASOK, one from the Communist Party, one from the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and one from the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) – were named yesterday. Tracing the trajectory of a star journalist turned top politician Theodoros Roussopoulos, 45, was appointed minister of state and government spokesman in March 2004 when New Democracy came to power after nearly two decades in opposition. His political career began in 2000 with his appointment as ND’s press officer. Prior to that, he had worked as a journalist for more than 15 years following his move to the capital from his native Kyparissia, in the Peloponnese. Roussopoulos made reference to his humble origins – his father was a postman – during a speech in Parliament on Wednesday. His career in journalism began in 1984 at the left-wing daily Eleftherotypia, where Roussopoulos remained until 1995. He was also active in broadcast media, working at private television channel Mega between 1989 and 1999 and contributing to Star Channel and to Athena 98.4 FM radio station. It was his weekly appearance on Mega’s respected current affairs show «7+7» that made him a household name. During his career in television, Roussopoulos met, and in 1989 married, Mara Zacharea, also a prominent journalist. Zacharea was last month forced to quit her posts as a TV and radio presenter following criticism by Petros Tatoulis, a high-profile ND MP and former deputy minister, who claimed that it was unethical for her to have such a prominent position in the media with her husband holding such a high-profile role in the government.