Bribe case returns to haunt ND

In a potentially embarrassing development for the government, a magistrate is expected to send to Parliament by the end of the week details of an alleged blackmail case so that it can examine whether Aristotelis Pavlidis, former minister for the Aegean, should face charges. Sources said that the deposition yesterday of Pavlidis’s former aide Panayiotis Zachariou essentially wraps up months of investigation and that judge Apostolos Zavitsianos is expected to forward the details of the case to Parliament, which has the power to lift a deputy’s immunity from prosecution. Following a preliminary investigation last August, a prosecutor charged Zachariou in connection with claims by shipowner Fotis Manousis that he paid 1 million euros annually in order to secure state subsidies to run ferry services to remote islands. Pavlidis had earlier accused Manousis of pressuring him to provide one of his ships with a permit to operate one of the lines to remote islands, saying he was the victim of blackmail. Despite claims that New Democracy had known about the allegations as early as the beginning of 2006, government sources said that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had not become aware of the case until April 2007 when Pavlidis filed a suit against Manousis. Pavlidis served as Aegean and island policy minister in New Democracy’s first term in office and, despite pressure from some conservative MPs to resign his seat in Parliament, he has insisted that he will stay put and fight the charges against him. However, if evidence implicates the former minister in any criminal activity, he is likely to be forced to quit ND and sit as an independent. If the negative publicity around the case builds up, Karamanlis may choose to force Pavlidis out anyway. Sources said that during his deposition yesterday, Zachariou denied the charges and questioned the motives behind Manousis’s allegations. The minister’s former aide was released on 30,000 euros bail and ordered not to leave the country.

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