PASOK on Vatopedi defensive

PASOK was forced to defend its role in the inquiry into the Vatopedi property swap yesterday after it emerged that the Socialist party’s spokesman had met two months ago with a businessman who has become embroiled in blackmail allegations linked to the case. The government seized on the admission of PASOK spokesman Giorgos Papaconstantinou that he met with businessman Thanassis Papistas several weeks before he was linked to an offshoot of the property scandal. «Instead of going to a prosecutor to tell him everything he knew, [Papaconstantinou] has been withholding information for two months,» said government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros, who accused PASOK of calling «false witnesses» that «belong to a strange collection of people.» Papaconstantinou insisted that when Papistas began to tell him that he had been blackmailed in connection to the Vatopedi case, he told the businessman to take any evidence he had, including a secretly filmed DVD, to the prosecutor. Papistas’s company had purchased real estate given to the Vatopedi Monastery in the land exchanges with the state. The DVD footage shows lawyer Michalis Koukovinos talking with an associate of Papistas and threatening legal action on behalf of Nea Raidestou farmers who were contesting whether the monastery owned land that was included in the Vatopedi deal. Koukovinos, the partner of the lawyer representing the farmers, Stamatia Sotiropoulou, is allegedly heard asking for cash and land in return for dropping the case. On Monday, Sotiropoulou claimed that conservative Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis told her the orders for the land swap to take place with the monastery came from Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. Psomiadis has denied ever saying this and has been called to answer questions before the parliamentary committee. The government has suggested that PASOK tried to manipulate the situation to attempt to incriminate Karamanlis, while the Socialists believe New Democracy is playing up the blackmail case to distract attention from the Vatopedi affair.