N17 terror verdict to be issued today

Just over nine months after the country’s biggest-ever terrorism trial opened at Athens’s Korydallos Prison, presiding judge Michalis Margaritis is due to deliver the court’s verdict today on 19 suspected members of the November 17 extreme left-wing group. Margaritis will pronounce on the alleged involvement of every defendant in each of the 78 cases on the charge sheet, which include 23 killings carried out between 1975 and 2000. Prosecutors have called for 17 convictions, while advising toward the acquittal of veteran unionist Yiannis Serifis, 65, and Thessaloniki bank employee Anestis Papanastasiou, 41, due to lack of sufficient evidence. Yesterday, Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos stressed that the trial – which several of the defendants dismissed as a forejudged set-up – had been conducted under the fairest possible terms. «I feel that it is commonly accepted that the process was impeccable, with all the provisions of the Constitution, the law and our criminal jurisprudence being observed to the letter,» he said. «In that sense, this trial is a great achievement for our legal culture.» Petsalnikos also denied reports that the government has already decided to hold those of the defendants who are convicted in a specially built section of the Larissa Prison in central Greece – quite near the army camp that November 17 raided on Christmas Day 1989, taking dozens of anti-tank missiles it was to use in a series of attacks over the next decade. «There is no such decision,» he said. Once the court has issued its verdict, the prosecution will take the stand to demand sentences, followed by defense lawyers. Then the court will announce the sentences. The entire process is expected to take more than a week, and will be delayed by a lawyers’ strike on Thursday and Friday. The 19 defendants, arrested between June 29, 2002 and January 9, 2003, face over 1,000 separate charges – with alleged mastermind Alexandros Yotopoulos, a 59-year-old, Paris-born translator, topping the list with 963 charges. The trial opened on March 3 in a specially built courtroom under heavy security measures.