The passing of a twenty year sentence for laundering money from illicit gains for former PASOK minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos, last week, for some, had a tinge of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad; the end of an era.
For others, although deserved, the fall of the former strongman was more akin to a "Potemkin" village; a prop hiding decades of misdeeds by scores of incumbents at all levels of government, elected, or appointed, and he nothing more than a convenient scapegoat.
For those believing the first version, the man who almost became leader of PASOK, and possibly Prime Minister of Greece, obviously got his highly symbolic just desserts. Akis, as he is known throughout Greece, was a mainstay for PASOK throughout the years Andreas Papandreou was still alive.
Akis rose through the ranks, fleeing the junta abroad, and joining Papandreou's foreign based PAK resistance movement. He was a top cadre that was originally thought a mere puppet for the late founder of his party, a fame he began to outgrow as he was upgraded through various ministries, all known to be kickback heavens, beginning with the ministry of public works.
Eventually, it was the leaders demise and Costas Simitis' rise to the helm of PASOK that allowed Akis to bloom, now free from the shadow of his mentor.
The Imia crisis crippled the country's morale, and especially sapped that of the armed forces. At that time, there was a sense that Greece was defenseless and what better way to remedy that than buy lots of bang. Up until Imia, the country relied on used equipment bought or granted from allies, and the older equipment which was state of the art when the Junta bought it.
With Akis running the ministry of defense, the country began a veritable orgy of defense spending, buying all sorts of weapon systems from all sorts of sources. All of a sudden Greece began an ambitious re-armament program buying German equipment for land and naval forces, Russian for anti aircraft systems and hovercraft, US aircraft, and a smattering of smaller orders from French, UK, and Italian sources. The official explanation was that this spreading around of orders offered Greece political leverage. In reality, the systems were mismatched and rarely made to collaborate, and were ordered without any operational rationale. Staffs were hard put to find how they would utilize the equipment they hadn't requested, only after it had been bought.
Items that were necessary in bulk, like jeeps and trucks were bought at piecemeal numbers at above market prices.
The most scandalous part of these agreements were the offsets, which supposedly bound suppliers with the obligation to offer respective investments and know-how transfers for Greece. These, simply, never happened.
The cost ran into the tens of billions, was obviously a lucrative deal for the bidders that won the contracts, who dealt through local intermediaries, who knew which strings to pull. And yet, the decisions, could not have been Tsohatzopoulos' own. It would mean he was running a scam behind the backs of so many others, some higher than him on the hierarchy of party and government. That either means the people running the show were stupid and gullible, turned a blind eye, or more nefariously, in cahoots, or even that he was operating under orders getting a part of the kickbacks.
For those looking at it from the inside there was no hiding the corruption. The very way these orders were handled, by-passing the very rules made to stop this, and the way politicians laid laws to totally shield themselves from future prosecution, reeked to high heaven of corruption. Yes, there was foreign political meddling, as well, but also followed by a lot of money under the table. Legitimate intermediary fees stand at 3%. For a billion euros that's 30 million. So what would a prospective contractor be willing to shell out in kickbacks to buy the complicity of major government players?
The defense ministry was/is just a microcosm of Greek government. These phenomena were not Akis-specific. The court verdict noted that throughout his political-cum-criminal career, "habitual" criminal Akis garnered 55 million euros in kickbacks.
One just wonders if that was all. Surely other palms must have been greased along the line. Theodoros Tsoukatos, Simitis' right hand man, after all, admitted to transporting a million euros to PASOK coffers from kickbacks, yet justice is still pondering this, so many years after the admission, in this day of hasty judicial procedures.
And here is where we see the other side. Akis made himself vulnerable. Unlike other PASOK cadres who quietly withdrew after Giorgos Papndreou made his brief appearance as party chief, and PM, never making the scandal sheets with their lavish lifestyle, Akis made no secret of his love of the good life, very much like his mentor Andreas Papandreou. His personal charisma could not save him from appearances. His marriage in Paris at the Four Seasons, his accumulation of real estate and corporate assets, his acquisition of, arguably, the most expensive property in Athens, all set him up for this fall.
In this he is a most revealing side of how the system works. Like the "Six" executed at Goudi for the Asia Minor disaster in the early twenties, a debacle which all parties were responsible for, Akis' fall seems to many, if not most, on the street, as a scapegoat, the "blood" of which will cleanse his former colleagues, not just from PASOK, of their wrongdoings that have brought 10 million people to their knees.
Akis Tsohatzopoulos is certainly guilty. The questions being set are whether this will suffice and whether it is just wool being pulled over citizens' eyes.