OPINION

Corruption at Defense Ministry

The government probe into the arms procurement deals that were signed during the former PASOK administrations have provoked fierce protests from the Socialist opposition. Giorgos Zorbas, the Defense Ministry general secretary for procurements, has come under fire from Socialist cadres and former PASOK ministers. The opposition claims that the conservative administration set up a parliamentary committee to investigate the arms deals without having any serious incriminating evidence against PASOK ministers, in a clear bid to inflict political damage on the opposition party. However no one – neither politicians nor the public – seems to take the opposition’s claims seriously. Various testimonies to Parliament’s investigating committee have made it clear that the informed views of the responsible military officials were not taken into consideration for arms procurements; deficient or unnecessary military equipment was bought at well over the actual price; and costs skyrocketed due to kickbacks and the role of middlemen. During a hearing of the parliamentary committee yesterday, a businessman who acted as a middleman in the purchase of a Russian-made defense system testified that he maintained close ties with a former Socialist defense minister, whom he brought into personal contact with a Russian supplier in 1997. The businessman told the committee, «Those in the know are well aware that commissions were given.» Regardless of the investigation’s findings, the work of the parliamentary committee has underscored that the tentacles of political and business entanglement have long embraced the halls of the Defense Ministry. Furthermore, it confirmed fears of extensive corruption in the realm of arms procurements, thereby vindicating New Democracy’s decision to launch an inquiry into the procedure. Recent disclosures of the murky dealings of the PASOK administrations have worsened the position of Socialist cadres who tried (and are still trying with the help of the PASOK-affiliated media) to discredit the parliamentary probe into the dodgy network. The revelations, however, are inexorable – a fact which constitutes vindication for Costas Karamanlis’s administration.