ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A former Greek finance minister who headed the country’s effort to join the euro was jailed Wednesday while awaiting trial on corruption charges.
Yannos Papantoniou and his wife Stavroula Kourakou were being held in a maximum-security Athens prison after a judge ordered pre-trial detention for them while they face money laundering charges stemming from bribes allegedly paid to secure a 2003 navy contract.
The 69-year-old Papantoniou, a Cambridge-educated economist, served as Greece’s minister of finance and national economy from 1996 to 2001 and then moved to the Ministry of Defense for three years under Socialist governments.
He denies the charges, accusing Greece’s left-wing government of orchestrating a political witch hunt.
A spokesman for the government, which faces a general election next year, described the decision as “proof of the corruption and degeneration of the old political system.”
No trial date has been set.
From the early 1980s and for more than two decades, Greece spent billions of euros (dollars) on an arms race with neighboring Turkey and on infrastructure works co-funded by the European Union. Allegations of corruption were rife.
These programs were deeply curtailed after the country’s debt crisis broke out in 2009, and Greece was forced to implement harsh spending cuts in exchange for international rescue loans. Action was also taken to investigate past cases of potential corruption.
In 2013, another Socialist former defense minister, Akis Tsochadzopoulos, was convicted on money laundering charges linked to bribes for major arms procurement contracts, mostly in the late 1990s.
He secured early release from prison on health grounds in July, pending the hearing of an appeal against his conviction.
The centrist To Potami party says answers are needed as to why former government officials were allowed to get away with wrongdoing for so long.
“When two defense ministers are arrested for enriching themselves through kickbacks … then we cannot speak of coincidence but of generalized corruption,” a party statement said. “And some people need to assume the political responsibility for what the judiciary is now confirming.”
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