The case involving German firms that allegedly payed bribes to Greek officials in exchange for arms deals is not new. Years ago, prosecutors in the northern German city of Kiel launched an investigation into top managers at the Kiel-based HDW shipyard on suspicion of corruption. But a lack of cooperation by Greek authorities led to the investigation being abandoned.
Recently, though, with Greece pursuing past corruption with more energy than ever before, progress has been rapid. And last week, two more suspects were taken into custody on suspicion of having received bribes from German arms companies or transferred bribe money onward in connection with a sale of German-made 214-Class submarines in the beginning of the last decade. The deal was worth €1.14 billion.
Sotiris E. is suspected of having received €20 million in connection with that deal. E. was the head of the struggling, state-owned HSY shipyard in Athens at the time. One of the provisions of the deal was that HDW would take over HSY. SPIEGEL has learned that Greek investigators believe the German submarine consortium, which included Essen-based Ferrostaal and HDW shipyards, gave that money to E. in the form of a bribe payment to ensure he wouldn't stand in the way of the plan. E. is thought to have received the money via shell companies in the Marshall Islands and Hong Kong as well as through his lawyer. He denies the accusations, saying that the payments were legitimate commission fees.
The second arrest made last week was that of Yannis B., who is thought to have cashed in €3.5 million on the same submarine deal. B., who is a close associate of former Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, has likewise denied any involvement in corruption.
The arrests mark a continuation of the newfound vigor Greek prosecutors have shown to investigate and arrest high-ranking officials suspected of past corruption. In the middle of December, longtime Defense Ministry official Antonios K. was taken into custody for having received bribes on arms deals. According to a December report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, newspaper, he received €1.7 million from a Greek representative of the German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann in connection with a delivery of 170 Leopard II tanks.
Since his arrest, he has reportedly made a wide-ranging confession, including his admission that he received between €500,000 and 600,000 in the 214-Class submarine deal. He also said he was bribed by several other companies around the world, including arms firms in Germany, Sweden, Brazil, the United States and France.
German companies Daimler, Siemens and Deutsche Bahn have likewise been accused of paying bribes for contracts in Greece in the past.
Recently, though, Greek prosecutors have been intensifying their investigations and have shown a willingness to reach for higher-profile current and former officials. "For the first time, Greek justice is reaching really high up," Aristides Hatzis, a legal professor at the University of Athens, told the New York Times recently. "One reason is that the public desire for catharsis is strong. Another is that the political system is weak and has too much to lose by trying to intervene. It risks being exposed."