ND holding its breath as probe begins

A committee of MPs was formed yesterday to investigate whether former Aegean Minister Aristotelis Pavlidis was involved in a bribery case after 215 deputies voted in favor of the Dodecanese lawmaker being investigated. In a vote that took place early yesterday following a lengthy debate, only 67 of 300 MPs voted against Pavlidis being probed. The ex-minister mounted a long, vehement defense during the debate that preceded the ballot. «I am not resigning; I am staying put,» said Pavlidis, who served as Aegean minister from 2004 to 2007. «After 35 years in Parliament, I will not tolerate this.» Pavlidis denied shipowner Fotis Manousis’s accusations that the minister and his aide at the time, Panayiotis Zachariou, had demanded and accepted bribes of some 700,000 euros in return for ensuring that he was awarded contracts to service state-subsidized routes to remote islands. Manousis claims that he was repeatedly shut out of tenders in the past and was only awarded the contract for the nonprofitable routes after agreeing to the under-the-table payments. The case was brought to Parliament after a prosecutor investigating Zachariou found there was enough evidence for Parliament to decide whether to investigate Pavlidis’s role in the affair. The committee, made up of 13 MPs, the majority of whom are New Democracy deputies, will decide whether the ex-minister should have his immunity from prosecution lifted. Following Pavlidis’s performance in Parliament, during which he produced several documents that he claimed proved his innocence, sources said the feeling in the government is that he will not face a further inquiry. However, this can not be known for sure until the committee concludes its work on April 27. Until then, the conservatives will attempt a public relations damage limitation exercise, hoping that no further action is taken against Pavlidis and that the goverment is not forced into early elections.

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