Immunity law under scrutiny

Judges, prosecutors and lawyers brought up a thorny political issue yesterday, as they suggested that the law governing whether ministers can be charged and convicted of crimes should be changed. The justice officials could not have had better timing in putting forward their proposals, as the parliamentary committee that is investigating the Vatopedi property exchange began hearing from witnesses. The issue of ministerial culpability is bound to come up during the next month and a half when the panel carries out its probe into whether any government officials were involved in the land swap with the Mount Athos monastery. As the law stands, MPs and ministers are immune from prosecution unless Parliament intervenes to lift this immunity. There is also a five-year statute of limitations on offenses committed by politicians. The provisions have come under the spotlight as a result of the Vatopedi affair, with PASOK alleging that three government ministers were involved in the deal when it took place. One of those, Theodoros Roussopoulos, recently resigned as minister of state after coming under heavy criticism. The Union of Judges and Prosecutors, the Union of Administrative Judges, the Union of Greek Prosecutors and the Athens Bar Association said that it is time that the limits on prosecuting MPs and ministers were re-examined. Their proposal appears to have attracted the support of PASOK leader George Papandreou, who believes that there is a «crisis of values» in Greece at the moment and that he is prepared to «exhaust every possibility offered by the current legal framework with regard to political figures, including the possibility of a full review.» The four justice unions have announced that they will hold a conference to discuss the issue as well as wide concerns about the independence of the judiciary, which, again, have been exacerbated by the Vatopedi scandal.