ATHENS – A Greek appeals court upheld the conviction of former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos on money laundering charges linked to bribes for major arms procurement contracts, mostly in the late 1990s and ordered his return to jail after he had been released after an operation and claims of ill health.
He had been serving a 20-year prison sentence following his conviction in 2013 for money laundering. The court him a 19-year term and upheld convictions for another 15 people, including his wife Viki Stamati as well as other relatives and associates.
Of the 15, eight including Stamati are to return to prison though they are not expected to stay long as most of them have already served the bulk of their sentences.
The court is to convene again on Nov. 1to determine the fate of Tsochatzopoulos’ assets which have been seized by the state. His mansion under the Acropolis had already been confiscated.
Tsochatzopoulos, 78, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2013 but released on health grounds earlier this year and later was seen with his wife – who was also released from prison in the case after she said she was mentally ill and was a mother – eating 60 euros a plate lobster spaghetti at a fancy seaside restaurant.
Greece embarked on a major military upgrade program following a 1996 crisis that brought the country to the brink of war with neighbor Turkey over disputed territorial rights in the Aegean Sea. The court is due to announce the sentences later this week and whether he and his wife could be sent back to jail.
The two are now free after stealing so much money that witnesses said they couldn’t keep track of it.
Tsochatzopoulos, who praised the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA after his release from jail 15 years early, is nonetheless “abhorrent,” a Member of the European Parliament for the party said.
Dimitris Papadimoulis is also Vice-President of the Parliament and he lashed out at Tsochatzopoulos, who had expressed admiration for SYRIZA, whose popularity has plummeted after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reneged on anti-austerity promises.
Papadimoulis, trying to put some distance between himself and the party from the disgraced former minister, tweeted that “Scandalous Tsochatzopoulos is as abhorrent as are his opinions”.
In early April, an Athens Court of Appeal accepted his request for early release due to health reasons, imposing a 200,000-euro ($219,710) bail and a ban on leaving the country. His lawyer said that the money was raised by several donations.
Tsochatzopoulos, 77, was found guilty in 2012 for money laundering and accepting bribes linked to arms procurement contracts during his term as defense minister between 1996 and 2001. He was the highest former official to be convicted for corruption in the country in several decades.
He underwent a triple bypass surgery in April, but had to return to prison because he couldn’t raise the bail money.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)