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Arms deals overhaul



--- Quote ---Greece will overhaul arms procurement to make it more transparent, Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Friday, after a wide-ranging corruption inquiry led to the arrest of a former defense official and two arms dealers.

Heavy arms spending was one of the reasons Athens piled up debt and had to be rescued with European Union and IMF bailouts totaling 240 billion euros ($328 billion) in 2010 and 2012.

These were accompanied by strict conditions that have increased poverty and unemployment, so the scandal has touched a raw nerve with many Greeks.

Avramopoulos said the ministry's proposals would be submitted to parliament "in the immediate future".

His statement followed court testimony by Antonis Kantas, deputy armaments chief at the ministry between 1997 and 2002, who openly admitted to taking $16 million in bribes relating to arms deals with foreign companies from countries including Germany, France, Russia, Brazil and Sweden.
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--- Quote ---A corruption probe into long-forgotten defence contracts has given authorities in Greece a small financial victory, along with the promise of revelations into decade-old graft.

The sum of over 9.0 million euros ($12.3 million dollars) has been handed over to the state by Antonis Kantas, a former defence ministry official turned state witness.

Kantas, 72, was a deputy procurement director at the defence ministry from 1997 to 2002.

He has admitted pocketing over 10 million euros from kickbacks related to the purchase of submarines, rockets, fighter aircraft and tanks.

"I took so many bribes that I cannot remember them all," Kantas said in his testimony, according to press reports.

Kantas had served under socialist defence minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, 73, who was jailed in October for money laundering.

That 20-year prison sentence has loosened tongues after years of silence.

He has since named about a dozen other suspects, most of them businessmen and weapons intermediaries, but justice officials are hoping to net bigger fish among the Greek political elite.

A justice source told AFP this week that "there are hundreds of millions of euros and dollars from procurement programmes spread out in accounts around the world."

The case has dominated headlines in a country suffering from four years of straight austerity cuts and trying to recover from a six-year recession.

This particular case occurred at a time when Greece was spending millions of euros on weapons in a costly arms race with neighbouring Turkey.

To placate public anger, the finance ministry this week said the money returned by Kantas would be diverted to health and education, which have sustained major budget cuts in recent years.

However, many in the country doubt that endemic corruption in public office will be eradicated as a result of the investigation.

Also this week, the chairman of Greece's main children's hospital was arrested after he was taped allegedly accepting a 25,000-euro bribe.

The case is bad news for the conservative-socialist coalition government ahead of local elections in May.

The conservatives and socialists have ruled Greece for the past 40 years, and are considered responsible for its financial and corruption ills.
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