Former Cyprus Interior Minister Dinos Michaelides may be the first extradited official to face trial in Greece.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 29/08/13
Former Cyprus Interior Minister Dinos Michaelides is wanted in Greece in connection with the case of Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who is pictured above during his arrest in April 2012. [AFP]
Greece's efforts to prosecute accused corrupt officials received a boost when a Cypriot court ruled former Interior Minister Dinos Michaelides will be extradited to Greece in connection with a scandal involving former Greek Defence Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos.
Tsochatzopoulos, 73, is charged as being the ringleader in a money laundering and kickback scheme to steal up to 1 billion euros from Greece's defence contracts while he was defense minister from 1996 to 2001.
Michaelides and his son Michalis are wanted in Greece in connection with the alleged kickbacks during purchases of Russian anti-missile systems and German submarines, and with helping Tsochatzopoulos hide bribes in offshore bank accounts.
Prosecutors said the Michaelideses cannot account for 7.7 million euros found in a joint bank account.
A witness in Athens has already testified the two were conduits to laundering money and concealing bribes.
The Cypriot authorities amended the constitution to enable Michaelides' extradition, but a decision whether to extradite his son is expected to be reached September 4th.
Michaelides' lawyer argued his client suffers from a heart condition and should not be extradited.
Upon hearing the news, Michaelides said he was ill and was taken to a hospital.
The Cypriot court is expected to rule on the appeal by Thursday (August 29th).
The Greece-Cyprus co-operation shows the era of impunity for politicians who break the law is over, according to Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens.
"Nobody ever touched Michaelides until now and the Greek government is doing all it can to implement anti-corruption schemes. It sends a signal inside and outside Greece the bad days are over and no one is going to steal again and get away with it," Klapsis told SETimes.
Eighteen other officials and aides are also being prosecuted in the affair.
Tsochatzopoulos has been widely criticised for his lavish lifestyle that included a luxurious wedding in Paris and purchasing a mansion on an exclusive pedestrian walkway under the Acropolis.
The government subsequently confiscated his home.
Similarly, Michaelides has been under scrutiny in Cyprus because of his high-spending lifestyle, said Yiorghos Leventis, director of the International Security Forum in Nicosia.
"The Cypriot society is boiling to allow his extradition, which is indeed a first. Cypriots feel Michaelides' time of judgment has come," Leventis told SETimes.
Tsochatzopoulos has denied the charges against him and said he is being used as a scapegoat for the Greek crisis. The Tsochatzopoulos and Michaelides prosecutions are aimed at assuaging public anger over austerity and impunity for politicians, argued Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University in Athens.
"I hope the justice system will prove itself independent enough and confront corruption, because I am not very optimistic we should only rely on the government regarding this issue," Sakellariou told SETimes.
Extraditing Michaelides will ramp up interest in the months-long Tsochatzopoulos trial and likely boost the prosecution's case by producing evidence and witnesses against Greece's former defence chief.
The case of the two former ministers is about more than just alleged wrongdoing at the highest levels of government, said Ioannis Michaeletos, an analyst for the Institute for Security & Defence Analysis in Athens.
"Yes, it shows in general a greater interest in combating high-level corruption," Michaeletos told SETimes.
But the damage is done, likely in the billions of euros misspent and lost to corruption, he added. "That has had an effect on the increase of public debt and the loss of opportunities to enhance national defence."
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