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Attorney-general launches probe into 2008 helicopter purchase (Updated, adds background)

purchase

The attorney-general has ordered a criminal investigation into the procurement in 2007 and 2008 of five helicopters for the police and the army at a cost of around €76mln.
The probe will also include former auditor-general Chrystalla Georghadji, currently the Central Bank Governor, in relation with the submission of information to parliament, which released the funds for the purchase, an announcement said on Wednesday.
Attorney-general Costas Clerides made the decision after studying the information concerning the procurement procedures, handed to him by parliament and Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides.
Reports suggested the auditor-general pointed the finger at his predecessor who allegedly – despite knowing that the cost of the helicopters was excessive – chose not to divulge the information to the House defence committee.
This resulted in two separate purchases of five AW-139 helicopters from the Italian company Agusta, three for the National Guard and two for the police.
Andreas Hasapopoulos, a senior audit service official who blew the whistle, said the state had overpaid for the procurement by at least €14mln.
The five helicopters were acquired through two separate processes. The National Guard’s was through direct negotiation with suppliers, which was allowed at the time.
Hasapopoulos said the defence ministry pre-selected six companies and asked for bids despite it being obvious from the start that four did not meet the criteria.
Three were Russian, while the specifications mandated Western or US airworthiness certificates, and one, a Swiss company, was not even a helicopter manufacturer.
“Don’t know how they found it (the Swiss company), it is something they should explain,” he said in an interview with Kathimerini newspaper around a week ago.
Out of the other two, one had the lead because of the criteria that were set, Hasapopoulos added.
He said he included all this in a memo to Georghadji who took part in a House defence committee meeting that discussed the matter.
MPs had the same concerns, Hasapopoulos said, but Georghadji sought to allay them instead of confirming them.
Asked to offer a reason, Hasapopoulos said she did not want the purchase cancelled.
One of the reasons mooted was the need for aircraft able to carry out search and rescue operations at a time when Turkey was disputing the Republic’s ability.
But Hasapopoulos said that would have been a political decision and had nothing to do with the audit service’s mandate.
An MP at the time, Interior Minister Socratis Hasikos, told the defence committee that the same helicopters were sold abroad for €8.8mln ($11mln). The bid at the time was €12mln for the basic model but it dropped to €11mln following negotiations.
The final cost was around €15mln each, including some extra equipment added later, Hasapopoulos said.
A year later, the police paid close to €14mln for the basic model.

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