OPINION

Disquieting charges

Recent allegations by the resigned chairman of the Defense Analysis Institute and the ousted chairman of EVO-Pyrkal, the Greek armaments and munitions industry, raise a major moral and political issue for Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou. The accusations are direct and cannot be dealt with adequately through the minister’s vague and unconvincing statement. Professor Giorgos Sotirelis and Syros Koskovolis belonged to Papantoniou’s narrow circle of aides, were appointed by him, and therefore cannot be accused of bias. What they said and, most importantly, what they suggested reinforce what has long been the subject of corridor talk. Kathimerini pays extreme caution when it comes to moral issues, but it feels obliged to point out not only the questions raised by the recent allegations but, more broadly, by the scandalous management of armaments expenditures. People in the know are familiar with many such examples. The huge amounts of money which are being channeled into the bank accounts of middlemen are then forwarded to other beneficiaries that one can easily imagine but can only identify and prove with great difficulty. Considering its size, Greece is one of the highest defense spenders. The Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus and Ankara’s expansionist pressures in the Aegean Sea energized an instinct of self-preservation and prompted post-1974 governments to take measures that would consolidate our national security. The Greek public has had to make big economic sacrifices all these years. A large section of the budget is spent on upgrading our military so that it can safeguard national security and create the basis on which an effective foreign policy can be based. Unfortunately, these funds were not used as they should. Over time, a network of middlemen and suppliers was established, which now lurks in the Ministry of Defense. The problem is not only the overpricing of products in order to subsidize kickbacks. Worse still, designated funds are not distributed according to the country’s genuine needs but according to other, dubious criteria. As a result of this, the country has in the past purchased inappropriate weapons or useless equipment. The situation has gone far beyond the bounds of acceptability. It is unconscionable that a vital need like the consolidation of national security has become a source of illicit moneymaking for a narrow group of suppliers and middlemen who have established privileged ties with government officials and connections within the armed forces. This situation must end. The recent allegations did nothing but bring to the surface a problem whose extent and intensity match that of the hypocrisy of the responsible officials.