NEWS

More efforts to end era of ‘justice for sale’

As rumors mount that more names will be added to the list of those already being investigated in connection with alleged trial fixing, the justice minister gave the first official indication yesterday of how deeply rooted the problem might be when he referred to an «illegal trade in justice.» Meeting with the new head of the Union of Judges and Prosecutors, Panayiotis Athanasopoulos, yesterday, Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras said that anyone involved in the «illegal trade in justice» would be punished. «It is a painful but necessary process,» said Papaligouras of efforts by authorities since early this year to get to the bottom of the allegations about bribery, money laundering and trial fixing which have shaken the Greek justice system. «Nothing will remain in the dark because the corrosion of justice amounts to a reversal of social and democratic order.» Since January, 10 judges have been fired. At least 11 more are currently the subject of investigations. Another 15 people have been charged with offenses ranging from bribery to money laundering in connection with an alleged ring, which is said to have helped drug dealers secure early release from prison and drug-trafficking suspects dodge jail. A former priest, Iakovos Yiossakis, is alleged to have acted as a middleman for the ring. The highest-profile figure within the judiciary to be linked to corrupt practices is the Supreme Court’s suspended vice president, Achilleas Zissis, who also resigned as head of the Union of Judges and Prosecutors last month. His position was taken by Athanasopoulos, whose meeting with Papaligouras was designed to present a united front between the government and the judiciary in the drive to clean up the system. «The investigations should proceed in depth and breadth on all levels, without exceptions and with speed,» said Athanasopoulos, «so the fog enveloping the justice system can disappear and citizens’ trust in the judiciary can be restored.» Athanasopoulos was also keen to point out that most of the 4,000 judges and prosecutors are doing their jobs properly. A survey yesterday seems to indicate that there is still plenty of work left to convince Greeks that a real purge is under way. According to the poll conducted by VPRC for Skai radio, only 54 percent of respondents believe that efforts to root out corruption in the judiciary are progressing. But sources said that probes into alleged corruption are continuously coming up with new suspects and that authorities are expected to be called on to sack more judges and bring more charges against lawyers and prosecutors. Certainly, the comments by Papaligouras yesterday were the broadest hint yet that corruption has spread within the system. This is also the view of former leader and current MP for Synaspismos Left Coalition Nikos Constantopoulos. «What has come out so far is just the tip of the iceberg,» he said. «There is a lodge of organized crime within the justice system and there are links to the political world and the business and financial world.»