N17 judge probes ’92 ‘fiasco’

In a curious turning of the tables in the November 17 terrorism trial yesterday, the prosecution and even presiding judge Michalis Margaritis trained their sights on former police officials who, in 1992, squandered what may have been counterterrorism authorities’ best chance in 27 years of catching the shadowy group. Yesterday’s session looked into the bungled operation in Ambelokipi, central Athens, to catch N17 operatives following a tip-off in late March 1992 by an anonymous informant lured by the large cash reward on offer for information leading to the group’s arrest. Days of surveillance of Louizis Riancourt Street, where the woman had said members of the extreme left-wing group were to meet after an attack on a judge, left police with a net gain of one van stolen by N17 and one of the pistols the group had taken during a raid on an Athens police station. But the terrorists escaped, and a further 10 years were to elapse before police could make the first N17 arrests. Stephanos Makris, police chief in 1992-1993, identified the informant as Maria Tsinteri, a microbiologist living in Drosia, northern Athens, and married to a military officer. He said Tsinteri received 13 million drachmas (38,000 euros) for her services. Tsinteri, who has denied any involvement, was called to testify. Prosecutor Vassilis Markis described as a «fiasco» the police’s handling of the informant. «You had her in your hands and did nothing,» he said. Margaritis was caustic too. «I am surprised at the way you operated, which makes me wonder… Did nobody do their job properly?» Alleged N17 hit man Savvas Xeros told the court he had been at Louizis Riancourt Street during the operation, and accused police officers of having cooked up the informant story to grab the reward.