Greek parliament rejects controversial shipyards, submarine agreement inquiry
Updated: 2013-12-19 03:23:00
ATHENS, December 18 (Xinhua) -- Greek parliament rejected on Wednesday evening a proposal tabled by main opposition Radical Left SYRIZA party for an inquiry into the terms of a controversial agreement regarding the sale of Greece's Skaramangas shipyards three years ago and the subsequent purchase of submarines by the Greek state.
Citing "scandalous choices" which harmed the interests of the Greek state, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of euros, SYRIZA focused its criticism for the handling of the case on current Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who was serving as Defense Minister in 2010, when the deal was signed.
Under the agreement, shipbuilding group Abu Dhabi Mar (ADM) acquired the majority stake in the shipyards when German firm ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems decided to reduce its participation in the shipyards under a previous deal from 2002.
The new consortium was awarded with the construction of further two submarines for the Greek state, despite cost-increasing delays up to then, as part of efforts to support Greece's defense industry and save job positions amidst a severe economic crisis.
The contract was an extension of a deal signed by former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos who is currently serving jail term for laundering of money allegedly deriving from kickbacks for lucrative defense contracts.
Since 2010, the Greek state has been involved in a marathon financial dispute over the 2 billion euros (2.75 billion U.S. dollars) worth of orders with the private investors who have not delivered the submarines, as scheduled according to initial timetables.
On its part, the consortium said financial problems has pushed for the dismissal of most of the approximately 1,000 employees, who have launched industrial actions for months, demanding backpay.
After a heated debate on Wednesday, with 167 votes against versus 120 in favor, the Greek lawmakers rejected the proposal for the formation of a special parliamentary committee to investigate the issue.
Addressing the assembly socialist, PASOK party leader Venizelos dismissed the proposal as an attempt for his defamation, implying that he has been targeted by "vested interests."
He defended the 2010 agreement, arguing that there was limited space for maneuvers in negotiations with the private investors and a no-deal then would mean the immediate shutdown of the shipyards.
"If we hadn't acted then, we would face a similar problem with the Hellenic Defense Systems (EAS)," said Venizelos, referring to the state-owned loss-making defense manufacturer which had become a key thorny issue in negotiations with Greece's international lenders for months over the conditions of the release of the latest bailout tranche until this week.
Athens eventually reached a deal with creditors on Tuesday regarding the restructuring of EAS next year, gaining the "green light" for the disbursement of the one-billion-euro installment. On Wednesday current Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos pledged a similar comprehensive solution to the Skaramangas' problem soon.
Addressing the parliament, on behalf of the conservative New Democracy party of the two-partite ruling coalition which holds a slim 153- eat majority in the 300-member assembly, Avramopoulos backed Venizelos, despite the party's past criticism of the deal.
He dismissed the opposition's proposal as "polarizing and counterproductive at the moment," suggesting that the matter be left to be addressed by an ongoing judicial investigation.
Political analysts in Athens commented that a potential probe against Venizelos at the moment could refuel political uncertainty and harm efforts to exit the debt crisis, at a period when Greece is expected to return to growth after a painful six-year recession next year.