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Economy

Follow the Money: EU Prosecutor Probing Greek Trains Safety Spending

ATHENS – The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) that investigates corruption is looking into how Greece spent European Union funds designed to fix railway safety after reports signals and automated systems weren’t working when two trains collided head-on, killing 57.

Greek media reports had said that Greece – which partially blamed budget problems for not modernizing its antiquated trains and lines – got some 270 million euros ($287.72 million) in EU aid to do it, no accounting where it went.

The site EURACTIV first revealed that EPPO was getting involved and was investigating a contract for the upgrade of the signaling system on Greek trains and remote control that wasn’t done and would have prevented the tragedy.

“I can confirm that the EPPO has indeed an ongoing investigation, looking exclusively into possible damages to the financial interests in the EU,” an EPPO spokesperson told EURACTIV confirming a report from Documento.gr.

https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/eu-prosecutor-investigates-controversial-contract-related-to-greek-train-tragedy/

The EPPO spokesperson did not provide any details regarding the ongoing investigations, the site said about contract 717 signed in 2014 and concerned the reconstruction and upgrade of the signalling system and the remote control of the Athens – Thessaloniki – Promachona railway.

Documento reported that it was assigned to the joint venture TOMI (subsidiary of Greece’s Aktor group) and French multinational Alshtom but it was said one failed to provide the necessary certificates and combined with a lack of technical capacity, leading to delays under a New Democracy-led government.

Alshtom had all the necessary credentials and could move on with the implementation of its part of the project, EURACTIV was informed while Documento said that in 2017 the then-ruling SYRIZA referred the case to the Court of Auditors which approved a supplementary contract in August 2018.

That was done to implement the signaling system to improve rail safety and save lives and Ashtom co-signed the studies in July 2019 and the contract was approved by Mitsotakis’ government but not until 2021, too late.

As a result, the signalling and surveillance system is still not in place. The remaining work to complete the 717 contract is expected to take approximately one year, the news site said, with the railways operating manually in spots.

Mitsotakis first said the tragedy was largely due to “human error,” which rival parties said was done to put the blame on a station master who was arrested after admitting making an error to put the two trains on the same track.

But he also allegedly said that signaling systems and automation wasn’t working and five days later Mitsotakis apologized to the families of the victims and said that the train systems would be fixed.

But a three-member panel that was set up to investigate also was criticized for being partisan and one of its members – who had been head of the rail system and cut staff – quit over a conflict of interest, the opposition also claiming an EU-funded Remote Control Centre was deactivated.

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