ATHENS (Reuters) - A former Greek government official who admitted taking about $16 million in bribes more than ten years ago to wave through arms contracts, has returned 7 million euros ($10 million) of the money to the state, the finance ministry said on Tuesday.
Antonis Kantas, deputy armaments chief at the defense ministry between 1997 and 2002, was arrested and charged this month after investigating judges found he had 13.7 million euros of unaccounted-for money in a Singapore bank.
Kantas is the first Greek official to openly admit to taking bribes relating to major arms deals with foreign companies from countries including Germany, France, Russia, Brazil and Sweden.
“We are making every possible effort to return the rest of the money in the coming days,” his lawyers said in a statement.
Kantas’s testimony to investigating judges, in which he names the arms dealers who he says paid him, has led to a wide-ranging investigation in which two men have been charged and will appear in court in the coming days.
Dimitris Papachristos, 78, one of the two charged, was arrested on Monday. His lawyer said on Tuesday that his client would cooperate with the investigation but that he also suffers from serious health problems, including amnesia.
The case has touched a raw nerve among austerity-stricken Greeks, struggling to come to terms with the fact that their country is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
Excessive arms procurement is seen as one reason that Greece borrowed so heavily and then had to be rescued with a 240-billion-euro EU-IMF bailout accompanied by strict conditions that have increased poverty and unemployment.
Greece had the highest defense expenditure in the European Union in terms of economic output over the past decade. Its military spending stood at about 4 percent of gross domestic output in 2009, when its debt crisis started.
Most contracts were awarded to foreign companies.
Athens has already convicted a former defense minister and Kantas’s immediate superior for money laundering.
($1 = 0.7239 euros)
Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Louise Ireland