Greece amends constitution to net corrupt politicians


Athens (AFP)

Greek lawmakers on Thursday held a second vote on changes to the country's constitution, aiming to facilitate the prosecution of corrupt politicians.

The revisions must now be reconfirmed by parliament after the next election which is scheduled for October.

Parliamentarians agreed to amend safeguards shielding ministers and MPs from prosecution, which have proved a major stumbling block in pursuing several high-profile graft cases dating back to the early 2000s.

"Today we conclude the first phase of a key parliamentary procedure," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the chamber.

"We feel this constitutional revision is particularly critical," he said.

Judicial officials are currently investigating alleged kickbacks to conservative and socialist ex-ministers from Swiss pharma multinational Novartis and German engineering giant Siemens.

A 2003 case linked to bribes allegedly paid for a navy frigate upgrade is also under investigation.

The revision will also affect presidential election rules so that parliament does not have to be dissolved in case of deadlock.

In 2015, elections were triggered after three successive presidential votes in parliament failed to agree on a candidate.

"These changes seek to guarantee a smooth political cycle... parliament and the democratically elected government must be strengthened," said Tsipras, who benefited from the 2015 early elections.

Planned changes also include the introduction of a political oath for state officials, and the definition of the Greek state as "religion-neutral".

Political rivals have dismissed the constitutional revision as a ploy by Tsipras to woo left-wing voters and narrow a poll gap with the frontrunning New Democracy conservative party.