A former Greek minister was arrested and charged with moneylaundering on Thursday after telling lawmakers he had accepted money from German conglomerate Siemens while in office in the late 1990s, officials said.
The socialist government is under strong pressure to punish politicians who have benefited from the country's widespread corruption for decades, as voters hard-pressed by austerity measures demand retribution.
Former Transport Minister Anastasios Mantelis told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday he had received 200,000 deutsche marks (102,000 euros) from the German engineering group in 1998.
Mantelis could not be charged for taking the cash because of Greece's statute of limitations law but was charged with moneylaundering, said a court official who requested anonymity.
The prosecutor also barred the former minister from leaving the country and going to Azerbaijan, where he is a resident, the court official said.
"The prosecutor issued an exit ban against ex-Transport Minister Tasos Mantelis after he confessed he took money from Siemens," said the court official. "He is charged with legalising revenues from criminal activity."
Mantelis was arrested later in the day to make sure he will not leave Greece, a police official said. He had told Greek television that he would stay in the country and provide judicial authorities with all necessary explanations.
On Wednesday, Mantelis told a parliamentary committee investigating accusations concerning Siemens that he had received money from executives from the German group.
"At the end of October, early November 1998, I received a phone call from a Siemens executive who told me he represented the management of Siemens in Germany ... he told me very simply they want to contribute to my election campaign " Mantelis said according to an official transcript of his comments.
Mantelis said he later received another 220,000-240,000 deutsche marks on the same bank account but did not know if it came from Siemens. He sent some of the money to his son, who was studying in the United States.
Siemens ended one of the biggest corporate corruption investigations in history when it agreed in 2008 to pay about 1 billion euros ($1.23 billion) in fines and penalties as a result of U.S. and German investigations into bribes it paid to win contracts.
Greek finance ministry officials conducted an investigation in the Athens offices of Siemens on Thursday.
"The authorities came to Siemens and we are fully cooperating," said a spokesman at the group's headquarters in Munich, Germany. He declined to comment on Mantelis' statements.
Allegations that Greek politicians and political parties may have received money to grant Siemens lucrative contracts have dominated Greek media for years. This is the first time in the Siemens case that a former minister is being charged.
Prime Minister George Papandreou was elected in October last year on a promise to clean up politics after decades of political scandals. Earlier this month he sacked his deputy tourism minister after revelations that her husband owed more than 5 million euros in taxes.
ReutersLast Mod: 28 Mayıs 2010, 01:29