NEWS

Nobody held to blame for Ocalan fiasco

All 13 defendants accused of putting Greece at risk of war with Turkey by plotting or facilitating the clandestine entry of Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan into the country in 1999 were acquitted by an Athens court yesterday. The decision, which for 10 of the defendants was by a narrow majority, followed Tuesday’s proposal by prosecutor Nikolaos Seitis for all 13 to be cleared of the charges. Seitis had argued that although Greece’s peaceful international relations were jeopardized by the operation to smuggle in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader, Turkey’s most wanted man at the time, the defendants – who included Ocalan himself – had not sought to bring about a confrontation. Ankara had threatened to wage war on any country that offered succor to Ocalan. The PKK leader’s arrival – by chartered private jet at the Ioannina airport – in January 1999 set in motion a series of events that led to one of Greece’s most humiliating diplomatic fiascos when Ocalan was seized a fortnight later, on February 15, outside the Greek Embassy residence in Nairobi where he had been concealed for days. This led to the sacking of Greece’s ministers of foreign affairs, public order and the interior, while Ocalan ended up in Turkey’s top-security Imrali jail with a death sentence – since commuted to life – over his head. The man accused of having masterminded the plot, retired navy commodore Antonis Naxakis, was cleared by a 4-3 majority of criminal charges of setting Greece’s peaceful international relations at risk. A similar verdict was given for Ocalan’s two Kurdish aides, Cenkis Yakar and Ayfer Kayia. Another seven people, three aviation company officials, the pilot of Ocalan’s plane, the man in charge of Corfu airport’s VIP lounge and two airport policemen, were cleared of complicity in endangering the country’s peaceful relations. Two women at whose eastern Attica house Ocalan briefly stayed were cleared of complicity in Ocalan’s illegal entry to Greece. And the PKK leader himself was acquitted of illegal entry. The court also accepted a plea by Naxakis’s defense for the court minutes to be forwarded to a prosecutor for an investigation into whether former government officials bore any share of the blame for the Ocalan fiasco.