Athens Digest 04.04.2018

• Novartis scandal: 10 bank accounts to be examined, including Avramopoulos, Stournaras

• Poll: Syriza halves gap with conservatives

• PM Tsipras seeks to cool rhetoric with Turkey

• Military upgrade to cost EUR1 billion, says report

# An anti-corruption prosecutor has requested that the Greek bank accounts of EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and nine other politicians implicated in the Novartis bribery scandal be opened for investigation. Public prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki made the request to Greek banks and the Greek Capital Market Commission. Others named in the request were Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras and former prime minister Antonis Samaras, as well as immediate relatives of the 10 who are currently the subject of a parliamentary investigation.
Parliament voted in late February to investigate the bribery allegations involving the Swiss pharmaceutical company, and the case is expected to be handed back to the judiciary this month. All 10 politicians have strongly protested their innocence, accusing the government of engineering false allegations.

# PM Tsipras told ministers to avoid any delay in the final bailout review and rejected speculation that he was preparing to call a snap election as soon as the program ends. “The end of our term is in autumn of 2019 and the election is in the autumn of 2019,” he said. The assurance was made as an opinion poll suggested Tsipras’ Syriza party had halved the gap with rival New Democracy to under 5 points. The Kapa Research survey for the Athens daily Ethnos projected: New Democracy 21.6 percent, Syriza 17.2, Movement for Change (Pasok) 7.8, Golden Dawn 7.8, KKE 6.3, Independent Greeks 2.5, and 13.7 percent undecided. The previous Kapa Research survey, in December, also suggested a smaller gap (4.8 percent) than other polling companies. Several recent polls have given Conservatives a double digit lead, mentioning though that the gap between New Democracy and Syriza has been slightly reduced. Indicatively, Marc, for Proto Thema newspaper, reported a lead of New Democacy by 10,3 percent in late March and Metron Analysis for Vima newspaper reported a 9,7 percent gap in late February.

# As Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted a grand welcome ceremony for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Greek officials sought to calm the heated rhetoric with Turkey. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made a televised address to his cabinet, and stressed that Greece needed to display “unity, calm, and moderation” in the face of Turkey’s actions. Returning the two Greek soldiers arrested by Turkey while on a border patrol, he said, would be seen as a gesture of goodwill. The remarks came hours after Defence Minister Panos Kammenos briefed reporters, telling them on the record that he believed Erdogan had “gone totally mad.” Conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Kammenos should have been dismissed for making the remarks. He described the minister as “dangerous and incompetent.”

# The government has earmarked EUR1 billion for the emergency upgrade of Greek military arms programmes, according to a report. The Athens daily Kathimerini said the bulk of the money would be spent on upgrades for fighter jets and navy frigates, largely to compensate for savings made during the financial crisis. The plan was agreed after Defence Minister Panos Kammenos briefed a parliamentary defence committee on the state of key military programmes and deteriorating relations with traditional adversary Turkey. The briefing was attended by the heads of all branches of the Greek armed forces.

On our Radar: Spy show to get ancient backdrop
Government officials admitted it had been an uphill battle: A panel of archaeologists has approved the use of ancient monuments at Cape Sounion, near Athens, for filming the BBC mini-series “The Little Drummer Girl,” based on the John le Carre novel. The experts at the Culture Ministry’s Central Archaeological Council removed earlier objections after the production company agreed on a smaller crew and site access for fewer hours on April 12. It was a victory for the government which has put its weight behind a new campaign to attract foreign filmmakers. The series made by the British broadcaster and AMC will be released next year.