By Angelos Anastasiou
AFTER a series of stops and starts the trial of former interior minister Dinos Michaelides get underway yesterday in an Athens courtroom.
The trial relates to charges of laundering money from the Greek arming programme under former Defence minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos. Michaelides, his son Michalis and Syrian arms dealer Fouad al-Zayad are all involved.
The former minister’s defence team attempted to cancel all court proceedings to date and adjourn for one month while a new bench was appointed to try the case.
Following a half-hour break, the court rejected the motion and called the first, and most important, witness for the prosecution, Nikos Zigras, so that the trial could effectively start.
But before Zigras, Tsochatzopoulos’ first cousin, appeared defence lawyer Elias Anagnostopoulos submitted another motion, asking for the Greek government, as represented by its lawyers, to be expelled from the courtroom, arguing that even if the five defendants were proven guilty, there is no indication that their actions caused the Greek government any harm, financial or otherwise.
Anagnostopoulos argued that if the defendants were being tried for bribery – which they aren’t due to the statute of limitations – perhaps one could substantiate a claim of loss to the state.
“But that is not substantiated by the money-laundering charge, so how is the Greek state allowed to attend the trial as a plaintiff?” he asked.
He further argued that the concept of “public interest” effectively exists in every trial, whether it relates to a case of arson or an accident, and therefore “it is inconceivable that the state would be present as a plaintiff and claim damages.”
After conferring for a further half-hour, the court announced it would withhold its decision on the issue of the Greek state attending the trial and Zigras was called to the stand.
But the witness had not been in the room at the time, and two other witnesses for the prosecution were called, who were also not present.
The trial was once again adjourned, until Tuesday, and Zigras, along with his lawyer, appeared shortly thereafter. When questioned, he claimed the court’s latest half-hour recess had lasted less than 30 minutes.
The defence’s main argument is that the trial has been derailed by virtue of decisions taken by the judge, and that in order for the tension to be relieved the court should adjourn for one month, to resume with a new bench, even if the judge is not replaced.
As pointed out by the prosecution, the trial had been adjourned since July 27, which has allowed a “relief period” of 1.5 months.
Dinos Michaelides and his son Michalis have been remanded in Athens for approximately one year. Their maximum remand period – 18 months – expires in six months. If the trial is not concluded at the end of this period, they will be released.
Their motion to be released conditionally in Greece upon completion of 12 months in custody was rejected by the court as the trial is in progress.
The decision was said to have angered the two Cypriots because, as they keep repeating, more than anyone else they want this trial to be over quickly, and also because almost a full year in prison has put them under great physical and mental strain.
By Angelos Anastasiou