Analysts praise the court sentencing Akis Tsochatzopoulos and 16 co-defendants and urge Greece to continue to pursue corruption cases.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 16/10/13
Former Greece Defence Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos was sentenced to 20 years in prison. [AFP]
The 20-year prison sentence issued to former Defence Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos by an Athens court is a clear sign that Greece is taking firm steps to end corruption, experts said.
"No matter how high ranking one might have been, officials can no longer feel safe when they break the law," Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, told SETimes.
Klapsis said the sentence is a clear sign the Greek government is genuinely determined to fight corruption. "It was the first time in years that a former minister was prosecuted for receiving money under the table," he said.
The court convicted Tsochatzopoulos of money laundering -- estimated at up to 1 billion euros -- and masterminding a scheme to steal from defence contracts during his tenure from 1996 to 2001. He was also accused of accepting bribes to award the contracts but the bribery charges were past the statute of limitations for a former minister.
The court ordered that Tsochatzopoulos' home be seized and it imposed a 520,000-euro fine.
Sixteen of Tsochatzopoulos' 18 co-defendants, including his wife and daughter, were also found guilty and received prison sentences from six to 16 years.
Tsochatzopoulos maintained his innocence, despite damaging testimony from a cousin, co-defendant Nikos Zigras, and accused the government of making him a scapegoat for the financial crisis.
"Tsochatzopoulos is not a scapegoat because he was responsible for what he was doing," George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, told SETimes.
But while the government needed to show it is prepared to punish people responsible for such wrongdoing, it is not enough, Tzogopoulos said.
Some Greeks have said the country's political leaders and elite have largely escaped sacrifice during the economic crisis.
"Judges had to be seen as harsh and public opinion was against Tsochatzopoulos from all sides," Ioannis Michaletos, an analyst at the Institute for Security & Defence Analysis, told SETimes.
Michaletos urged prosecutors to continue to investigate fraud cases against public officials.
"Corruption in Greece seems to be systemic and I am afraid the corrupted public officials will just become more careful. Tsochatzopoulos will not really change their attitude because the system functions with the same deficiencies that make it suitable for corrupt practices," Michaletos said.
Prosecutors said that Tsochatzopoulos's arrogance and greed contributed to his undoing, describing the scale of corruption in the case so great it shook even those hardened to investigating such practices.
"He took so many kickbacks that even he did not know how many there were," prosecutor Georgia Adeilini told the court.
Thanassi Antoniou, 84, a retired tailor whose pension has been repeatedly cut by the government as part of austerity measures demanded by international lenders, said there was no sympathy for Tsochatzopoulos from Greeks who've long believed political leaders were above the law.
"That cocky guy!" he told SETimes. "He should be ashamed of himself. All that money. He should be punished and I don't feel sorry for him at all."
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