The Greek government said it will overhaul contract awarding procedures and place defence contracts under increased parliamentary oversight following a corruption scandal in which at least 10 high-ranking military officers have been implicated for taking bribes to approve contracts for foreign arms manufacturers.
Retired Vice Admiral Vassilis Martzoukos appealed to the government to reorganize the procurement procedures for defense supplies and set an example for everyone involved in corruption.
“[T]here should be severe punishment for any corrupt officer because they do not have the right to contaminate the name of the Greek armed forces, which is the only state institution that citizens trust,” Martzoukos told Southeast European Times.
As the scandal unfolds, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged another crackdown on corruption and asked the justice ministry to show no leniency.
The scandal broke after Antonis Kantas, former procurement chief turned state witness, testified he took nearly 12 million euros in bribes to approve contracts for German, French, Russian and other foreign arms manufacturers.
The contracts included purchases of submarines, tanks, fighter jets and missiles.
The contracts were awarded in the late 1990s and early 2000s under the PASOK socialist governments, when tensions with Turkey were high and authorities decided to update Greece’s military arsenal.
Another witness, Panayiotis Efstathiou, who represented the German defence firm Atlas Elektronik, testified the former chief of the general staff and the former navy chief were among the officers who took bribes.
“Graft was an unfortunate and appalling reality. The majority of Greek officers carry out their duties conscientiously. Unfortunately, a minority seek and demand bribes for implementing weapons programs,” Efstathiou said through an attorney.
A third witness, Dimitris Papachristos, who represented German arms manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), was jailed pending trial after he testified.
While the government is also investigating former defence minister Yiannos Papantoniou for failing to report the source of his wealth, German authorities said they will probe whether KMW bribed at least one other Greek official to buy 170 Leopard 2 tanks.
The latest scandal comes just months after another former defence minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, was sentenced to 20 years in jail on corruption charges.
The scandals have shaken Greece’s military, whose budget was sharply reduced on EU-IMF-ECB orders so that the Troika would put up 240 million euros in two bailouts.
“[The scandals are] not a surprise to many Greeks since transparency has not been very strong in business deals between state institutions and domestic and foreign companies,” John Nomikos, who heads the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) in Athens, told SETimes.
Greece was a major arms purchaser during the last three decades of high tensions with NATO ally Turkey, but new orders have dried up since the economic crisis began in 2009.
Making bribery the norm in the defence ministry created a high-level security breach where officials always ran the risk of being blackmailed, said Ioannis Michaletos of the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis.
“It is likely weapons that were not needed were procured, which also puts a severe strain on the budget in the years ahead,” Michaletos told SETimes.
Military officials, however, said they are encouraged by the government’s plans for new measures to stem corruption.
“[They are meant to] guarantee the reputation of the armed forces,” Greece’s Defence Minister Dimitrios Avramopoulos said.
(Used by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)