Greek house backs charges against former minister: source

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Greek deputies on Friday approved for criminal proceedings against a former defence minister suspected of having taken bribes from a German industrial firm, a judicial source said.

Apostolos Tzohatzopoulos, who served as defence minister from 1996-2000, is suspected of having taken bribes from the Germany company Ferrostaal while negotiated an order for four submarines on February 2, 2000.

In a secret vote, 216 of the 242 lawmakers present voted to allow the criminal case to go forward.

In a separate vote, 215 lawmakers supported a case for "money laundering" against Tzohatzopoulos, who denied all the charges and said he had a "clear conscience."

A panel composed of five judges will now examine the case before deciding whether the prosecution should proceed.

Tsohatzopoulos, 72, is a founding member of the ruling Pasok socialists, which this week passed a crucial austerity package needed to access more foreign loans necessary to save the country from default.

The embattled former minister was very close to Andreas Papandreou, the father of current prime minister George Papandreou.

Tsohatzopoulos held several senior government posts in Andreas Papandreou's governments in the 1980 and 1990s, and during the 1996-2004 tenure of Costas Simitis.

A parliamentary commission investigating the Ferrostaal submarine deal in April asked the house to allow criminal prosecutions.

According to their report, based on a decision by an investigating magistrate in Munich, Ferrostaal had regularly paid bribes to politicians and high officials for foreign contracts.

In Greece, "the German business is suspected of having paid bribes between 72 million euro (104 million dollars) and 82 million euro to politicians and high officials," the report also said.

© 2011 AFP

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