Monastery probe snowballing

The two prosecutors investigating the controversial property exchange between the state and the Vatopedi Monastery tendered their resignations yesterday after claiming they had found evidence of ministerial culpability but that their effort to hand the probe to Parliament was blocked. The government refused to accept the resignations but the move by prosecutors Ilias Koliousis and Eleni Sotiropoulou plunged the ruling conservatives into fresh trouble amid claims that the judicial officials had been «leaned on» and «continuously directed» by their superiors. Koliousis and Sotiropoulou said in their resignation letter they had informed Supreme Court prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas and their superior Kyriakos Karoutsos on October 2 that their investigation had revealed evidence that pointed to the involvement of two deputy ministers in the property deal, which is alleged to have left taxpayers up to 100 million euros worse off. The two prosecutors recommended that the case be forwarded to Parliament for further investigation as only the House has the right to lift the immunity of MPs and ministers. Instead, Karoutsos, who is the head of the appeals prosecutor’s office, ordered a further investigation of the case and this week appointed a third prosecutor to oversee the probe. Koliousis and Sotiropoulou said that if they followed Karoutsos’s instructions, it would be tantamount to going against the Constitution, so they decided to resign instead. Having refused to accept their resignations, Justice Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis, who appears to have been caught off guard, spoke at length to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis about how to handle this development, which is likely to heap more pressure on New Democracy. PASOK leader George Papandreou reacted by accusing the government of performing «a judicial coup» by directly attempting to influence the prosecutors so the involvement of government ministers would be covered up.

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