ATHENS - Greece’s coalition government asked the Parliament it controls to investigate the awarding of contracts in the Defense Ministry from 2001-2003 when Yiannos Papantoniou was the chief.
Papantoniou, from the former ruling PASOK Socialists who have become Democratic Alignment after falling out of favor for supporting austerity measures, was convicted of hiding his assets but allowed to buy out his jail time, a common practice in Greece for those who have the money to do it.
The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA and its partner, the junior, marginal, pro-austerity, far-right, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) are pushing the probe. Another former PASOK Defence Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, was jailed after being convicted of stealing hundreds of millions of euros from defense contracts.
"There are signs that the offence of legalizing income from criminal activity has been committed in several ways, which must be investigated," the joint SYRIZA-ANEL proposal stated, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ name at the top.
Unlike most offences, money laundering at no statute of limitations and the probe seeks to determine whether Papantoniou hid money through real estate or other unlawful transactions, which he said was untrue.
The proposal also notes that Papantoniou's name was included in a list of Greeks with large deposits in banks abroad - specifically 1.3 million euros held in an HSBC account by his wife - and also has a final conviction for an inaccurate wealth statement in 2009, as well as other similar cases pending. The investigation is being backed by the main opposition New Democracy with To Potami, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Democratic Alliance and Union of Centrists all in favor as well.
The proposal came after six criminal cases involving Papantoniou were referred by the justice system to Parliament, as public prosecutors are required to do in the case of investigations involving former ministers.
The six cases relate to acts of breach of trust that resulted in major financial losses for the Greek State and are connected to the armament programs for the purchase of 170 Leopard tanks, 12 Apache attack helicopters, six S-type frigates, electronic warfare systems and 20 NH90 transport helicopters, the Athens News Agency reported.
In cases involving offences carried out by ministers or former ministers while in office, the Constitution stipulates that Parliament is empowered to conduct an inquiry and vote to refer former ministers to justice for offences until the end of the second regular Parliamentary session after the alleged offence or offences were committed.
Since all the offences of which Papantoniou is accused were carried out between 2001 and 2004, they have thus been statute-barred since September 28, 2006. The offence of legalizing income from criminal activity is considered continuous however, so the same restriction does not apply.
In their proposal, the SYRIZA-ANEL MPs note that in one of the six cases against the former minister referred to Parliament, he is also under investigation for legalizing income from illegal activity. "In all the cases, instances have become known from which could be inferred indications of the generation of wealth from acts of breach of trust and the subsequent legalization of income from criminal activity," they add.
Papantoniou described the initiative as “a disgusting public relations stunt which serves narrow political interests,” Kathimerini reported.
He added, “For 14 years, all the contracts of the Defense Ministry have come under the meticulous scrutiny of administrative and judicial authorities and no evidence, or suspicion of evidence, has been found of illegal or irregular acts or shortfalls by me.”