Greek ex-minister's money laundering trial opens in Athens

A prominent Greek ex-minister went on trial in Athens on Monday on charges of money laundering linked to controversial arms deals during his years in power.

Facing a sentence of up to 20 years, 73-year-old Akis Tsochatzopoulos is accused of pocketing kickbacks on state contracts to buy a Russian-made anti-missile system and German submarines during his stint as defence minister from 1996 to 2001.

The Greek state ended up paying surcharges of millions of euros.

Tsochatzopoulos, a founding member of the socialist Pasok party, denies the accusations against him.

He has been detained at Korydallos prison in western Athens since his arrest a year ago.

Other than Tsochatzopoulos, 18 more people, including his current wife, his German ex-wife and his daughter, are accused of complicity.

According to local media, this is the first money laundering trial involving a former minister since a major embezzlement scandal involving banker George Koskotas in the late 1980s that implicated several government figures.

Tsochatzopoulos was on Monday transferred under heavy police presence to Athens' court of appeal, which has the power to try current or former members of the government.

The proceedings, held in the court's largest hall that was packed with lawyers and journalists, opened with a series of questions and objections by the defence.

Tsochatzopoulos' former wife and daughter, who are being held in pre-trial detention, did not appear in court and were represented by their lawyers instead, according to a judicial source.

A total of 14 witnesses are scheduled to testify and the trial is expected to last at least a month, said the same source.

In early March, Tsochatzopoulos was already sentenced to eight years and fined 520,000 euros for hiding revenue in a separate case.

The court also ordered the seizure of his opulent home near the Acropolis, the 2009 purchase of which he had failed to declare.