ATHENS – Jailed former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, being held on money-laundering charges in connection with cases of alleged bribes totaling as much as $62 million, has threatened to reveal the names of those he said were behind his incarceration and said he would out people he suggested were involved in rampant corruption.
Tsochatzopoulos, who has maintained his innocence, threatened: “I know everything.” Prosecutors have implicated 10 people in the scheme, which they say Tsochatzopoulos used to conceal ill-gotten gains.
His warning came after his wife and daughter were also arrested on money laundering charges. The former defense minister said he would identify those whom he accused of being behind his “unprecedented political persecution under a legal mantle.” In a written statement issued after the detention of his wife Viki Stamatis and two days after that of his daughter Areti, the ex-minister spoke of “a plan of annihilation aimed at breaking up my family,” noting that his five-year-old son had been left without his parents, the newspaper Kathimerini reported.
Tsochatzopoulos, who is accused of pocketing kickbacks from defense contract deals, said his testimony would uncover Greek wrongdoers. “The truth will shine and the lies will crumble, revealing who truly honored the public interest,” he said. Stamatis denied involvement with the offshore companies her husband allegedly used to launder payments for arms purchases. Stamatis’ brother, Panayiotis, has been released on bail pending his trial, the newspaper said.
Tsochatzopoulos has been in jail for two weeks, held in a cell which previously occupied Monk Ephraim, who is being charged in a separate case involving a multi-million dollar land swap involving church-held land and the government, one of a wide series of corruption scandals engulfing Greece. Although no one has been prosecuted for anything, critics said the arrest of Tsochatzopoulos was just a ploy to deflect attention from a crushing economic crisis and the May 6 elections in which the country’s two long-time ruling parties, PASOK and the New Democracy Conservatives are tumbling in the polls because of their support for austerity measures in return for international rescue loans.
Prosecution of high-ranking former politicians is unheard of in Greece amid constant suspicion that the country’s entrenched political leaders and the rich elite are above the law. The Tsochatzopoulos case has garnered widespread attention amid speculation whether he would retaliate by unveiling other cases of alleged corruption in a country which ranks among the highest in the world for bribery and other financial crimes.
According to a lengthy report by prosecutors Evgenia Kyvelou and Eleni Siskou, the 73-year-old minister pocketed millions of dollars in unreported payments for defense procurements since 1997, with the frequency of illicit transactions peaking between 1999 and 2002. They said the activities 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, according to the report.