With boos but also applaud the crowd outside the Athens Appeals Court ‘welcomed’ former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos and his wife Vicky Stamati. Together with 17 other suspects, the couple enter the court room in handcuffs. It is the first time in Greece a key figure of the Greek political scene that faces such a criminal trial after more than two decades.
Akis Tsochatzopoulos, a former PASOK member, served as defense minister between 1996 and 2001. He is now been accused to have allegedly taken bribes as part of the process of awarding procurement contracts. Two deals in particular have been under scrutiny:
the TOR M1 missile defense system and the purchase of submarines for the Hellenic Navy. both contracts worth some 3 billion euro.
Greek media report that rrosecutors believe that some 160 million euros in bribes was paid as part of the two deals. With the help of former Defense Ministry official Yiannis Sbokos and others, Tsochatzopoulos allegedly siphoned this money off using offshore companies. So far, authorities have traced 57 million euros.
The ex-minister denies the charges, blaming PASOK and Nea Dimocratia tired to turn him into a scapegoat.
Last week, Tsochatzopoulos lawyers made a request for the other members of the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA), which approved the deals, to appear in court. This includes former Prime Minister Costas Simitis. The request was rejected but he is expected to bring back the matter.
Money laundering carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, with 73-year-old Tsochatzopoulos facing the possibility of serving up to 12 years in jail if he is found guilty and handed such a term.
According to Greek media, the court is going to demand one million euro from each of the defenders as compensation for its loses. The trial is expected to last several months.
Among the suspects are also Tsochatzopoulos’ daughter Areti and his first wife German wife Gudrun Moldenhauer.
PS As expected Greeks wonder whether Tsochatzopoulos was the only minister receiving bribes…