Politicians deny links to criminal gang

Three deputy ministers yesterday distanced themselves from links to a widespread criminal network after their names were mentioned in secretly recorded conversations between suspects. Transcripts of the discussions revealed references to Alternate Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis, Deputy Health Minister Marios Salmas and Deputy Merchant Marine Minister Panayiotis Kammenos. Kammenos appeared on a morning TV show to angrily deny any connection to the members of the ring alleged to have been behind the kidnapping of ferry tycoon Pericles Panagopoulos and various other crimes. In the recordings, two of the main members of the alleged gang appear to discuss the possibility that the deputy minister will do them a favor. «I had never heard of these men before; I have never seen them in my life nor do I ever want to see them,» said Kammenos. Earlier, Salmas denied links to businessman Giorgos Trimboukis, who allegedly had a prominent role in the ring. Trimboukis is a subcontractor who appeared on the ticket of Maria Sotiriou when she ran for mayor of Amfilochia in western Greece in 2002. Sotiriou was recently hired as Salmas’s private secretary. Salmas said that any allegations made against him were «false and slanderous.» He said that he had asked Sotiriou to resign as a result of her connection to Trimboukis. Markoyiannakis was also forced to deny any connection to the alleged gang after the warden at a jail in Hania, Crete, and the wife of Panayiotis Vlastos, accused of being the ring’s mastermind, were recording mentioning the alternate minister in a discussion about the possibility of finding a job for a military graduate. «I do not think it is worth discussing or creating scenarios about a request being made to the political office of a minister with regard to the future of a military cadet,» said Markoyiannakis. Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros indicated that there was no question of any action being taken against any of the ministers. «All of them have made their positions absolutely clear,» he said of the deputy ministers, as he urged people not to listen to «whispers and unsubstantiated allegations.»