Greek Ex-Minister's Home Now a Monument to Corruption
Athens has gained a new tourist attraction alongside its ancient Acropolis, as visitors flock to view the nearby upmarket home of a disgraced former minister that has become a symbol of corruption.
"After the Acropolis museum, this has unfortunately become the second main attraction here -- the home of a corrupt minister," said one young Greek outside the mansion where Akis Tsochatzopoulos, 72, a former defense minister of the socialist party Pasok, lived before landing in jail.
On a pedestrian street lined with olive trees in one of the most expensive parts of town, the opulent pale-yellow mansion where he lived in the penthouse apartment competes for attention with the Parthenon temple that sits atop the Acropolis citadel.
Groups of chattering visitors arrive in search of the house and try to peer through the windows to confirm what they have heard about Tsochatzopoulos's reportedly luxurious lifestyle.
In a hard-up country now in its fifth year of recession, Tsochatzopoulos has become a target of indignation over what ordinary Greeks see as widespread corruption in political life.
"It is shameful, the minister and all the Pasok people who embezzle money and put it in their pockets," said one elderly woman, who crossed herself several times as she arrived at the black bars of the front gate.
Tsochatzopoulos was arrested at his house in April, weeks before an inconclusive general election last month that added to the political turmoil, and is in custody pending trial for money-laundering.
The allegations against him include failing to declare his grand residence to the tax authorities, as well as links to controversial arms deals while he was defense minister from 1996 to 2001.
He is accused of having abused his position as defense minister to pocket kickbacks on contracts to buy a Russian-made anti-missile system and German submarines. The Greek state ended up paying surcharges of millions of euros (dollars).
Prosecutors say the illegal proceeds were used for several choice real estate purchases in Athens by Tsochatzopoulos and members of his family.
His second wife, Vicky Stamati, who is also behind bars as well as his daughter Areti, went on hunger strike last month demanding to be released.
Tsochatzopoulos, a founding member of Pasok and a close aide to late socialist prime minister Andreas Papandreou, denies any wrongdoing.
His lawyers also argue that he cannot be tried for alleged abuse of power that occurred over a decade earlier.
The Greek press has made much of allegations that he spent big sums on decorating his home and on lavish trips abroad, including his marriage in France.
"We know there are lots of other corrupt ministers," said Nikos, a young passer-by outside the house.
One Greek man pointed it out to a group of British visitors, saying: "This is how things work in Greece."