Parliament breaks old taboo

Not without misgivings, Greek MPs agreed yesterday to lift the parliamentary immunity of five of their colleagues, opening the way for their prosecution for speeding, involvement in a traffic accident, and perjury. Another five MPs will not be prosecuted, as their alleged crimes were deemed to be linked with their political activities. Notoriously reluctant to allow the prosecution of its members, even on charges that by no stretch of the imagination could be said to be politically motivated, Parliament has only lifted the immunity of five MPs since 1974, rejecting nearly 700 prosecution bids. Matters came to a head last November, when, in a secret ballot, the house refused to waive the immunity of New Democracy’s Athanassios Katsiyiannis – a supervising engineer on an Athens building that collapsed in the 1999 earthquake, killing a boy – whom a prosecutor had sought to charge with murder with possible intent. In June, MPs approved a new rule formulated by Parliament Speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis under which such votes will be open. A house committee will first decide whether the charges are political – therefore qualifying for immunity. A first debate last week on the 10 prosecution bids ended in controversy, with MPs claiming they had not understood the full implications of June’s deal. Yesterday, Kaklamanis was jubilant. «It was a very important session, as it broke a 160-year-old taboo,» he said. «Parliament confirmed its respect for the sovereign people. I understand those who did not vote for [waiving immunity] in the belief that they were protecting Parliament’s prestige.» The five MPs up for prosecution are PASOK’s Leonidas Grigorakos and Andreas Makripidis, and ND’s Aristotelis Pavlidis, Thodoros Skrekas and Nikos Tsiartsonis.