APRIL 13 2009 17:51h

Senior Greek Officials Convicted In Bribe Scandal





`They have been convicted for attempt to blackmail, bribery and being direct accomplices to bribing`, the official said.

A senior Greek official and two accomplices were found guilty on Monday of eliciting bribes, the first verdicts handed down in connection with several major scandals shaking the government.

A court sentenced the former director of Greece's competition watchdog, Panayotis Adamopoulos, a customs official and a merchant to 5-1/2 years jail, suspended, and fined each of them 10,000 euros for demanding bribes from a dairy company, a court official told Reuters.

"They have been convicted for attempt to blackmail, bribery and being direct accomplices to bribing," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The three appealed against the verdict, handed down almost three years after the scandal surfaced.

The present conservative government was elected in 2004 on pledges to fight corruption, which had undermined previous governments led by the socialist PASOK party.

But so far, in its five years in power, the government has been shaken by scandals ranging from controversial land swaps between the state and a wealthy monastery to suspect government bond sales and state-run pension funds.

The main opposition Socialists have widened their lead over the conservatives to 7.5 percentage points, a poll showed on Sunday.

The newspaper Kathimerini, which published the poll, said a parliamentary investigation of conservative deputy Aristotle Pavlides for possible involvement in a shipping scandal was one of the reasons for the government's fall in popularity.

Monday's sentencing will add gloom to a political climate already heavy with scandals but will not seriously damage the government as it does not involve top politicians, analysts said.

"With the Pavlides scandal open, some may say that they are trying to jail three small fish and exonerate the big fish," saidCostas Panagopoulos, head of the ALCO polling agency.

The government-appointed director of the competition watchdog and the two others were charged in 2006 after the dairy company MEVGAL notified police about the blackmail and one of the accomplices was arrested in central Athens while accepting a downpayment of 200,000 euros in marked bills.

The government has a fragile one-seat majority in parliament but has so far ruled out early elections despite protests against economic measures, and leftist attacks triggered by the police shooting of a teenager in December.

Analysts say the unresolved scandals add to perceptions of corruption in Greece, which ranks worst among euro zone members in the corruption watchdog Transparency International's index.