ATHENS – He was a founding member of the PASOK Socialist party in 1974, almost became Prime Minister, was one of the most recognizable politicians in the country and served as Defense Minister, but Akis Tsochatzopoulos’ lavish lifestyle and evasion of a number of allegations regarding corruption have finally landed him in jail on charges of money-laundering. Prosecutors said he used his position to steal millions of dollars in under-the-table bribes for defense procurements.
While he awaits prosecution, the charges have made for a hard fall for Tsochatzopoulos, who lived in a $1.82 million home under the Acropolis – a residence he allegedly did not report in his declaration of wealth reports, and will spend Easter weekend in a police cell. The charges rocked Greece and outlined allegations of a high-living, free-wheeling lifestyle of a man said to spend more than $50,000 a day, all while denying he had ever done anything wrong.
In a 103-page report, prosecutors Evgenia Kyvelou and Eleni Siskou said that the 73-year-old minister was stealing since 1997, with most of the illicit transactions between 1999-2002. They said the transactions were concealed with the help of close associates who ran three offshore companies to hide the money, some of which was used to buy the ex-minister’s array of assets. The report listed all the transactions, including the names of the financial institutions involved. He had earlier been indicted by the Parliament on similar charges, including those linked to the purchase of a faulty German submarine.
Millions of euros’ worth of deposits in several European banks, including 16.2 million Swiss francs (or $17.8 million) in Switzerland, have been linked to the procurement of Tor M1 missiles. The three implicated offshore firms – Cyprus based Torcaso, Liberia based Nobilis and US based Blue Bell – all belonged to Tsochatzopoulos, according to the report, but were run by close associates including his first cousin, Nikolaos Zigras, also a former minister.
Zigras is set to face an investigating magistrate, as is entrepreneur Giorgos Sachpatzidis, and Efrosini Lambropoulou, an accountant and representative of one of the three offshore firms. A fourth suspect, Asterios Economidis, head of one of the offshore companies, testified before a magistrate on April 12.
The newspaper Kathimerini reported that prosecutors said the money laundering was conducted chiefly through the purchase of properties in Athens, and that the report noted that the transactions traced are believed to be only a fraction of those carried out over a decade or so.
One example is the purchase of the ex-minister’s luxurious home on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street in central Athens. The neoclassical building was purchased in 2010 by Tsochatzopoulos’s wife, Vassiliki Stamati, though it had previously belonged to Torcaso and Nobilis, two of the offshore companies listed in Tsochatzopoulos’s name. Tsochatzopoulos’s daughter, Areti, denied media reports that gold bars were found at her home. She said that police seized 10 pieces of gold leaf, which weigh 99 grams each, as well as nine 1935 gold sovereigns that she said she inherited from her grandfather.
Tsochatzopoulos’s wife and daughter could also face charges in connection to the probe into the veteran politician’s property dealings. Scenes of him being arrested outside his luxury home and being put into a police car with a grim look on his face captivated TV audiences; this came as Greeks are furious over what many believe is a high-living elite in the country who has escaped the austerity measures that cut deeply into working-class Greeks and impoverished many.