Greek ex-minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos imprisoned for eight years for tax fraud

Source: guardian.co.uk

Socialist party politician who almost became prime minister in 1990s becomes latest target of crackdown on corrupt politicians

Akis Tsohatzopoulos, ex-defence minister and leading Pasok politician, is taken to court in Athens

Akis Tsohatzopoulos, former defence minister and Pasok politician, is taken to court in Athens. He is the highest-profile politician to be jailed in decades. Photograph: EPA

A Greek court has sentenced a former defence minister to eight years in prison for failing to disclose the source of lavish wealth that made him a symbol of the corruption that has plagued the country.

Once a powerful Socialist politician who almost became prime minister in the 1990s, Akis Tsohatzopoulos has been in jail pending trial since April last year as prosecutors investigated allegations of fraudulently acquired wealth.

In the highest-profile conviction of a politician in decades, the Athens appeal court ruled on Monday that his income statements between 2006 and 2009 were false and he had failed to declare a neo-classical mansion at the foot of the ancient Acropolis when he bought it in 2009.

Greek politicians are required under law to declare the origin of their wealth.

Tsohatzopoulos told reporters shortly before he was sent back to prison that he would appeal against the sentence. “The truth was covered up and this is a legal failure. It is an unacceptable decision,” he said.

During the trial, details emerged of an opulent lifestyle that confirmed popular impressions of a self-serving elite that used public office for personal enrichment.

Soaring unemployment and painful austerity measures have deepened popular anger against the generation of politicians who led Greece into a debt crisis in 2009.

The government is trying to appease some of that anger by stepping up efforts to crack down on high-level tax evasion and fraud.

On Thursday, a former mayor of the country’s second city, Thessaloniki, was jailed for life for embezzling about €20m (£17m) in the first big corruption trial since the crisis erupted.

Tsohatzopoulos faces a further trial on charges of money laundering and using offshore companies to buy the luxurious mansion in Athens.

In addition to the prison term, he was also fined €520,000 and the mansion will be confiscated.

Tsohatzopoulos nearly became prime minister in 1996 but was narrowly defeated in an internal party vote to become chairman of the then-ruling Socialist Pasok party, now a junior partner in the ruling coalition under the prime minister, Antonis Samaras.

He last served as minister in 2004 and quit politics in 2009. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in a series of affairs investigated by prosecutors, including the use of offshore companies to buy the mansion and the purchase of German submarines by Greece.

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