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Ex Defense Minister Papantoniou remanded in custody for bribes in frigates contract

After a marathon deposition of 20 hours, former Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou was remanded in custody late on Tuesday. Handcuffs were passed also to his wife Stavroula Kourakou. Both face charges for money laundering of 2.800.000 Swiss Francs (2.4 million euros) from kickbacks from the time he was Defense Minister 2001-2004.

69-year-old Papantoniou is the second PASOK Defense Minister after Akis Tsochatzopoulos being charged for money laundering and kickbacks. Papantoniou succeeded Tsochatzopoulos in Defense Ministry in 2001.

According to 800-page indictment, Papantoniou has allegedly received 2.8 million SF from a contract to upgrade six frigates type “S” of the Greek Navy.

The contract was signed with Greek Shipyards and subcontractor French company  THALES NEDERLAND B.V. in 2003. According to indictment Papantoniou received the money as “present” in order to assign the contract to THALES, media report.

With headquarters in Hengelo, NL, THALES NEDERLAND is involved primarily in naval defense systems (sensors, radars and infrared systems etc). The company is a subsidiary of French multinational THALES Group.

Fifteen years after the controversial contract the former Defense Minister was called to convince that he did not harm the Greek State with motive -as authorities said – in order to receive illegal benefits.

The former minister and his wife have denied all charges.

Paspantoniou reportedly claimed that revoking the contract would have resulted in damages for the Greek state worth €3 billion as new frigates would have been built.

From the kickbacks, the damage for the state is estimated at €400.000.

In the context of investigation, seven bank accounts in Swiss banks and dozens of sub-accounts were identified. The accounts were used to transfer and relocate the money with the “aim to eliminate traces.” Stavroula Kourakou was co-holder of some of these accounts and that’s the reason she is accused as well.

According to state broadcaster ERT, Papantoniou uses the same scheme as predecessor  Tchochatzopoulos had used: the bribes would be deposited into account of a close aide of  Papantoniou, the money would be further transferred to off-shore companies, then to banks in Cyprus and from there another friend of Papantoniou would withdraw the money. The friend was recently interrogated and was set free on €500.000 bail and banned form leaving the country. The man who directly received the kickbacks has passed away.

In a statement to reporters while he was taken to police bus in handcuffs, Papantoniou said “Justice is becoming a tool and that sets our democracy at risk.”

Papantoniou is an economist who served as minister for national economy and finances 1996-2001. He is the architect of  Greece’s accession to the Euro Zone.

Papantoniou and Kourakou were remanded in custody with the unanimous decision of interrogation magistrate and prosecutors.

They were transferred to Korydallos prison in Athens.

Their custody considered as necessary as they were suspect of leaving the country. They have moved to own property in Switzerland last year.

Judiciary is expecting the Parliament to determine whether the bribes charges have expired due to statute of limitations. “Money laundering” is not protected by this provision for ministers.

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