Power plant case sees more Greek officials charged

ATHENS Fri Mar 8, 2013 5:48pm GMT

A view of a Public Power Corporation (PPC) electric power station is pictured at Keratsini suburb near Athens May 4, 2011. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

A view of a Public Power Corporation (PPC) electric power station is pictured at Keratsini suburb near Athens May 4, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Yiorgos Karahalis

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's privatisation chief and a senior finance ministry official have been charged in the latest high-profile case to target senior business and political figures in the debt-ravaged state.

The two officials were among former board members of Greek state utility PPC (DEHr.AT) charged with breach of duty on Friday for commissioning a loss-making power plant, a court source said.

They follow a prosecutor's charging of three ministers for failing to declare wealth and the conviction of two politicians on other charges.

PPC commissioned the 250-million euro natural-gas-fired plant at Aliveri in central Greece in October 2007, in a contract signed by then-chief executive Takis Athanasopoulos, who now runs Greece's privatisation agency, HRADF. The company incurred losses over 100 million euros from the plant.

"The charges are breach of duty, with aggravating circumstances under the law about public embezzlement," the court official said.

It is common for Greek officials to brief the press formally on condition of anonymity in court cases.

Greece has stepped up prosecutions of politicians and businessmen in recent months amid rising public anger against a wealthy elite partly blamed for dragging the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

A prominent former mayor was sentenced to life in prison last month for embezzling funds while a former defence minister was sentenced to eight years for falsely declaring his income.

Criminal charges were also filed this year against the chief of Greece's statistics agency ELSTAT, Andreas Georgiou, who is accused of inflating past deficit figures. Georgiou has denied any wrongdoing and both government officials and the EU statistics agency Eurostat have come to his defence.

Breach of duty against the state carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The charges are against PPC's entire 11-member board which approved the decision at the time, including Athanasopoulos.

As part of standard practice under Greek law, court officials will investigate before a decision is made on whether the case should come to court, the official said.

Other board members charged include Yannis Panagopoulos, who is leader of Greece's biggest labour union GSEE, and George Mergos, currently secretary general of the finance ministry.

PPC declined to comment, saying it has not been officially informed of any charges. Athanasopoulos and Panagopoulos were not available for comment. The finance ministry did not respond to a call for comment.

The Aliveri plant was completed last year after long delays. Prosecutors alleged PPC should not have signed the contract because it knew it would not be able to link it in time to the natural gas grid, the court official said.

As a result, PPC suffered losses because it had to pay compensation for delays and other fees to the Greek firms METKA (MTKr.AT) and DESFA, which built the power station and the pipeline linking it to the grid. METKA chief Ioannis Mytilinaios was also charged, the official said. The company also declined to comment.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Patrick Graham)

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