‘Loose’ purchases

The honorary chief of the Army General Staff has characterized the procedure followed by the Defense Ministry in purchasing the TOR-M1 weapons system between 1997 and 2000 as an innovation that raises many questions. During the investigation, another senior officer used even more direct language: «It was more market research than an operational and technical evaluation of systems.» The bulky files containing the results of the investigation into the weapons system purchase, submitted to the relevant parliamentary committee, contains a number of similar depositions. According to the testimony of senior officers, and above all according to that of the then-general director of armaments, Yiannis Sbokos, it was the will of the defense minister that prevailed in decisions to buy weaponry and not the recommendations made by the evaluation report or negotiations committees or even those of the general armaments directorate. Then-Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos has been compromised by the officers’ deposition and particularly by that of his close associate Sbokos. None of those who testified can explain why the minister did not demand a bank guarantee in order to secure the offset benefits and the general interest of the country. Sbokos goes even further and describes the contract as «loose.» Even more ominous is the apparently free circulation of secret state documents in the former minister’s personal files and in those of various committee members. The general impression, one of disdain for experts’ committees and an insufficient guarantee of the nation’s interest, is disillusioning indeed. It suggests that a vital state sector has been pervaded for too long by a lack of transparency and control, not to mention disorganization. Of course, it is too early to draw conclusions. Parliament’s investigative committee is just beginning its proceedings, which will attract a great deal of attention. Nevertheless, although the statute of limitations has expired and thus no punitive action can be taken, the political responsibilities are indeed heavy. Meanwhile, the current political leadership has a similar responsibility to reorganize what is apparently an untenable weapons program system and restore to the armed forces what they have lost – their credibility and dignity.