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Ex-banker returns for fraud trial

George Koskotas, the financial whiz kid who rose from being a New York house painter to Greek press baron and banker in less than a decade, is expected to return here from the United States this weekend as the main witness in a multimillion-dollar bank scandal. Koskotas has been battling a Greek extradition request from the United States, where he fled in 1988 after being unmasked for defrauding his own bank to the tune of $210-million.

His return follows the State Department's approval of his extradition and is widely seen as the beginning of the end of the swindle.

It could also spell the political demise of Andreas Papandreou, the former Socialist prime minister whose fall from office in 1989 was largely attributed to allegations of his government's involvement in the bank scandal.

"I have two suitcases containing documents that prove Papandreou's role in the affair," Koskotas was quoted as saying in a recent interview from his Boston jail cell.

Koskotas, a self-confessed swindler, had been the central force behind accusations that Papandreou masterminded a scheme to siphon millions in interest payments accrued on state accounts deposited at the bank.

As the prosecution's star witness in the ongoing "Bank of Crete" trial in which Papandreou and two of his former ministers are the main defendants, Koskotas has pledged to reveal evidence proving Papandreou accepted some $700,000 in bribes allegedly delivered to his doorstep stuffed in diaper boxes.

If Koskotas' tales of bribery and corruption are accepted, the 72-year-old Papandreou, indicted in September 1989, could face a life sentence.

Koskotas' long-awaited appearance before the 13-member panel of judges is expected to take place Monday.

Papandreou, meanwhile, continues to boycott the court proceedings, calling them a parody of justice.

Instead, Papandreou, who still commands some 40 percent of the vote, is continuing to press demands for elections this autumn.