ND shields ex-PM from Vatopedi

As calls grew yesterday from across the political spectrum for former conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to testify before a parliamentary committee investigating a controversial land swap between the state and the Greek Orthodox Church, New Democracy rushed to the defense of its former leader. «A former prime minister decides for himself the time and circumstances that are right for him to talk,» said ND spokesman Panos Panayiotopoulos. Panayiotopoulos’s comments came a day after a key witness in the probe clearly suggested that not only had the former premier been aware of the land exchange, believed to have cost taxpayers some 100 million euros, but he had approved the shady deal. In her deposition, Katerina Peleki – who is married to former Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis and acted as a notary in the exchange – referred to a «central political decision» behind the deal which she alleged had come from the office of Karamanlis, implicating the premier and his aides. According to sources, Peleki expressed surprise at the reluctance of members of the former government to come forward and testify on the land-swap affair as, in her opinion, the exchange did not result in damages for the state and therefore responsibility for the deal should not carry criminal charges. The leader of the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Giogos Karatzaferis, struck a similar note in Parliament yesterday, calling on Karamanlis to face the committee «not as a defendant but as a key witness.» ND leader Antonis Samaras avoided wading into the dispute ahead of his scheduled speech this evening at the Thessaloniki International Fair, where he is to offer his counterproposals to Prime Minister George Papandreou’s policy declaration at TIF a week ago. Speaking after a walk through central Thessaloniki, where he commented on the large number of businesses that had closed down, Samaras blamed the government’s policy of «austerity, austerity, austerity and more austerity.»

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