November 17’s ‘trial of the century’ failed to provide any real answers to the crucial questions

When the trial of 19 suspected members of the November 17 terrorist group began in March, the politicians and the judiciary, as well as those immediately involved in the trial itself, felt it would be a long-drawn-out process producing a wealth of evidence that would shed light on some of the more obscure aspects of the group’s history. It was indeed a long trial, but no light has been shed on November 17: such as the group’s early years, its founding members, the notorious «Anna,» the group’s financial backers or the role of the secret services. During the eight-month proceedings in Korydallos Prison, much was said about the way the police had handled the investigation; there were allegations of irregularities and of violations of human rights. There were also protests regarding the conditions under which the interrogations of the accused were carried out and the methods used, which were virtually the main source of the incriminating evidence used against them. What is certain at the end of the day is that the investigation itself produced much more evidence than what emerged at the trial, to the point where one wonders what purpose the latter has served. The judges’ verdicts, expected to be issued as of Monday, December 8, will be the result of proceedings that have not provided answers to crucial questions. Questions that are not likely to ever be answered, as those who are in possession of the truth, even those who «cooperated» with the authorities, have decided to keep silent. 1. The founding members. According to the Appeals Council’s brief, founding members of November 17 included Yiannis Serifis, Alexandros Yotopoulos, Nikos Papanastasiou, Pavlos Serifis and the mystery woman known as Anna. During the trial no evidence was produced regarding the founding of the organization, nor about its first strikes. There is a complete absence of evidence for almost the entire first decade. None of the accused has spoken about the group’s original leadership, nor about the people involved or the murders the group claimed responsibility for in 1975. The only person who has touched upon that period is Pavlos Serifis, during his preliminary testimony, which he promptly withdrew after the trial began. Even the witnesses who testified regarding the first killings did not provide any useful information about those events of nearly 30 years ago. 2. The Mystery Woman. Again in the Appeals Council brief, there is mention of another woman in addition to the accused Angeliki Sotiropoulou and the elusive «Anna,» based on the description given by a witness to the murder of British defense attache Brigadier Stephen Saunders. The witness, G. Katsos, described a pale-skinned woman about 1.75 meters in height. A woman’s hair was found in one of the safe houses that does not belong to Sotiropoulou. Apart from some witnesses who identified Sotiropoulou in court, there is no other evidence of a woman in the organization. The accused have categorically denied the existence of any woman member. Yet in some of the crimes for which they have been accused, such as the missile attacks against former minister Ioannis Palaiokrassas and again against the Opel car dealership, as well as the bank robbery in Petralona, witnesses mentioned a woman who had taken part in preliminary actions, for example, disguised as a man outside the Opel showroom or in Syntagma Square just before the attack on Palaiokrassas, and as the person who brought a box of sweets that was the «bait» in the murder of police officer Christos Batis during the Petralona robbery. Also interesting was an observation by public prosecutor Vassilis Markis, who said that during a police station robbery at Vyronas, eastern Athens, a policewoman’s uniform was stolen, one which could not have been mistaken as anything else. Other than that, there is no other evidence and it seems that the identity of any unknown woman or women in November 17 will continue to remain a mystery. 3. The Louizis Riancour Street case. This is one of the most mysterious aspects of the case against November 17 and has been made even more confusing in court, where the only evidence provided was that Maria Tsinteri was not the «Maria» of November 17 as claimed by the then heads of the Greek police. Meanwhile, the Greek police, who supposedly had «Maria» under surveillance, did not manage to arrest her. According to police officers at the time, on March 27, 1992, a woman rang to say that November 17 was preparing to attack someone «in the prosecutor’s office» and that after the strike the group’s members would meet in front of a yellow building on Louizis Riancour Street. A police operation was organized, only to end in a fiasco. Defendants Dimitris Koufodinas and Savvas Xeros, who have confessed to being members of the group, took a different view, claiming that the entire case had been set up by the police to get the reward money, and questioned the existence of information about any «Maria.» «We checked the entire district that day and there was only one police car. The next day, there were just two officers watching the van we had abandoned. That is where they found the weapon,» said Savvas Xeros. Koufodinas spoke of «informer-agents and police chiefs that wanted to embezzle secret funds.» «November 17 never had, nor could it have had, any connection to these things,» he said. There is a third view that is still being discussed as a possibility, and that is that the Louizis Riancour affair was nothing more than a settling of accounts within the organization. 4. Secret service links. The words «agents» and «secret services» were often heard during the trial, both from the prosecution and the defense, yet nothing has been proven. In fact, when Kathimerini wrote about the «Ilios» operation based on two official documents from the German authorities indicating that a secret agent had infiltrated November 17 for the Stasi, the former East German secret service, and that a Greek businessman was involved in funding the organization, Koufodinas insisted that November 17 had never had any links with any secret service. However, a preliminary investigation led by prosecutor Antonis Mytis has been initiated. 5. N17’s source of funds. During the trial, the court prosecutor failed to obtain an answer, particularly from alleged leader Alexandros Yotopoulos, to the question of what happened to the 1.3 billion drachmas (382 million euros) that supposedly reached the group’s coffers but was never found. Koufodinas’s explanation that the money was used up for the group’s «operational requirements» did not convince the court. Nor were the famous «notebooks» that were produced very enlightening, since the court heard, among other things, that the abbreviations written next to the sums of money were not members’ codes. It is still not known whether N17 was funded by a businessman, as indicated in the documents published in Kathimerini. At any rate, there was no mention of this at the trial.