Greek lawmaker alleges bribery attempt in presidential vote

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A lawmaker from a small right-wing party claimed Friday he had been offered a bribe worth up to 3 million euros ($3.68 million) to vote in favor of electing Greece's new president, in the latest twist in the bailed-out country's fraught presidential vote.

Greece faces early general elections if its 300-member parliament fails to elect a president by the third round of voting on Dec. 29. In Wednesday's first round, the sole candidate and government nominee garnered 160 votes; 180 are needed for election.

Actor Pavlos Haikalis of the Independent Greeks claimed during a phone-in to a live television program that he was offered about 700,000 euros in cash, a loan repayment and advertising contracts, with the alleged bribe's total value amounting to about 2-3 million euros ($2.4-$3.7 million). He didn't identify the person, but said he had informed a prosecutor about two weeks ago and had turned over audio and video material.

Haikalis later alleged that the man who contacted him claimed to be acting on behalf of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and a banker.

Samaras' office swiftly rejected the allegation as "absolute slander and wretchedness at their worst," and said the prime minister would presently sue Haikalis and seek a prosecutor's intervention.

It's the second claim of attempted bribery from the Independent Greeks, who together with all other opposition parties have refused to back the government's presidential candidate. Another of the party's lawmakers claimed last month that someone had approached her with the intention of paying her to vote.

Government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi dismissed the allegations as "badly acted theater."

"It is obvious why these ridiculous performances are set up: so that a president of the republic is not voted for, and the country is led to early elections," Voultepsi said.

The Independent Greeks' popularity has been waning, with opinion polls indicating it could struggle to make it into parliament in general elections. The main opposition left-wing Syriza party, which is tipped as a likely winner, had indicated in the past it would consider cooperating with the Independent Greeks in a coalition if Syriza didn't win enough votes to govern outright.

Independent Greeks head Panos Kamenos called a news conference in which he described the person who allegedly offered the bribe as a "middleman" who tried to persuade Haikalis during more than an hour-long conversation to vote in favor of the presidential nominee. He didn't identify the man, who he said was a former bank employee. He said Haikalis had been wearing a watch with a hidden camera.

Syriza issued a statement saying Haikalis' allegations "are not only serious but document the generalized feeling of intervention, pressure and manipulation of lawmakers" in the presidential election.

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