Talking about corruption!

Talking about corruption!

Since Dec. 17th of last year, Turkey has been talking a lot about corruption but in relation to conspiracy and a parallel state. On the other side of the Aegean, the issue of corruption came up ironically almost at the same time and may now dominate the political agenda, too.

It started with the decision of a former official of the Greek Ministry of National Defense during the period of 1996 and 2002, to reveal the names of major arms dealers and other intermediaries who had bribed him in order to facilitate gigantic arms procurement projects approved by the then-Greek government. The official, Antonis Kantas, who is in prison awaiting trial, was then-Deputy Director of Arms Procurement at the Greek Ministry of Defense. He was among the accomplices of the former Minister of Defense Akis Tzohatzopoulos who was tried last summer and convicted for corruption, now serving a long sentence in prison. Mr. Kantas, described as the “butler” of the gang or the “boy who collected the breadcrumbs,” was caught with almost fifteen million Euros in ten off-shores and foreign bank accounts and he was said to receive 0.5% commission from the awarded companies. Out of 23 major defense projects that were carried out during that period and required the purchase of new weapons, Mr. Kantas confessed that he was involved in 10 as a member of the Arms Procurement Commission, the key approving organ for any defense project.

Mr. Kantas decided to “reveal names” in order to benefit from the Greek legislation and hope to receive a lighter sentence when his case comes up in court. Although his superior Tzohatzopoulos denied any wrong doing, Kantas confessed that he was receiving bribes from anyone who wanted to win tenders in the field of arms procurement and to get the approval of the responsible commission.

During the period which followed the restoration of democratic rule in Greece in 1974, only two political parties ruled the country- the Socialists of PASOK and the Conservatives of New Democracy. Both placed the relations with Turkey as their major policy issue and the defense of the country against a possible Turkish attack as the prime reason for a strong, modern and constantly updated national defense. As long as an imminent “Turkish danger” was said to be hanging over Greece, so great was the need to sustain the defense budget on the highest level. Of course there were also problems and there were occasions where the two countries almost came as close to a real conflict like during the Kardak-Imia crisis in 1996. But it seems sustaining the tension gave opportunity for more corruption.

So, Mr. Kantas, a retired officer himself and a small fry compared to his superiors, had to deal with the representatives of German, Russian, French and American companies who sold Greece an enormous number of weapons systems as a deterrent against, mainly, Turkey. Even today, at the time of a deep economic crisis and a collapsing income, the level of defense budget remains at 4% of the domestic GNP.

With the beginning of a new year and with the Greek economic crisis showing only limited signs of improvement, Greeks are aware there is going to be little change in their lives. All the latest polls are showing a “frozen” picture of a political landscape where no party can get more than one third of the vote and where the most popular party is the “’no’ party.” And when politicians cannot inspire confidence to their electorate, then comes the turn of justice whose role is to reveal “who stole the money.”

The case of Mr. Kantas may trigger a series of disturbing revelations for the political personnel of the period where the Socialists were in power under prime-minister Costas Simitis. Ironically, it was also the period of the Kardak crisis with Turkey until the double earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in 1999, which eased off the tension. Already, the Greek prosecuting authorities are calling for an interrogation for the people “given” by Mr. Kantas, elderly gentlemen dealing with arms sales who claim amnesia over past events. Whether political names will come up in the testimonies, nobody knows. But that would be something that could shake up the frozen picture of Greek politics.