By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS (Reuters) - A former Greek minister was arrested on Wednesday on money laundering charges, in the most high-profile case against a politician over scandals spanning decades in the debt-laden country.
Television showed images of plainclothes police officers leading Akis Tsohatzopoulos away from his luxurious neo-classical mansion at the foot of the Athens Acropolis. His purchase of the mansion prompted the investigation.
Greek authorities have stepped up arrests of tax dodgers and offenders lately, in an attempt to win popular backing for painful austerity measures that form the backbone of the country's EU/IMF bailout.
But the 72-year-old who last served as minister in 2004, is the only prominent politician to be arrested so far. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Even though corruption and cronyism are endemic in Greece, no politician has been tried or convicted in recent years, fuelling people's frustration with established parties ahead of a general election on May 6.
Tsohatzopoulos, who has held various portfolios including defense since the 1980s, faces felony charges in relation to property deals and possible tax violations, a court official said on condition of anonymity.
He is expected to appear before prosecutors later on Wednesday but it is not yet clear if he will remain in custody or if he will be released on bail. If found guilty, he could receive a jail sentence of up to 25 years.
"An arrest warrant was issued after the completion of a preliminary investigation," the official said.
Tsohatzopoulos nearly became prime minister in 1996, when he was narrowly defeated in an internal party vote to become chairman of the then ruling Socialist PASOK party.
Since quitting politics in 2009, he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in a string of affairs investigated by court prosecutors, including the use of offshore companies to buy his Athens mansion and the sale of German submarines to Greece.
In 2011, PASOK expelled Tsohatzopoulos after lawmakers asked that he be indicted in connection with the submarine procurement deal with German firm Ferrostaal [ID:nLDE7551X3].
(Additional reporting by Tatiana Fragou; Editing by Myra MacDonald)