An Athens prosecutor is set to investigate a secret videotape in which a former top aide to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is heard telling the spokesman for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party that the government trumped up charges against its leaders and influence the judicial system to go after the extremists.
The tape produced by Greece ‘s Golden Dawn lawmaker Ilias Kasidiaris as Parliament was voting to strip him of immunity so he could face criminal charges shows him talking to Panayiotis Baltakos, who was the Cabinet Secretary for Samaras’ ruling New Democracy Conservatives before he quit over the revelation.
The prosecutor, Calliope Dagianta, is to investigate the circumstances leading to the making of the video. Making and using an unlawful video is a crime subject to imprisonment.
After it surfaced, Baltakos said he was acting as a secret agent to learn about Golden Dawn’s inner workings and that Samaras was unaware of what he was saying. Baltakos said he lied to Kasidiaris to gain information from him but also said that he made claims about the government cracking down on the party because the extremists had “pressured” him.
Baltakos is set to meet with Dagianta on April 7 and she has asked for the minutes from the April 2 Parliament session in which the tape was revealed.
Judges anxious that they will come under scrutiny for allegedly being subject to political influence tried to distance themselves quickly from the affair as their union dismissed the claims they would help the government by going along with insufficient evidence Golden Dawn was a criminal gang were “groundless insinuations.”
In a statement, Supreme Court prosecutor Efterpi Koutzamani also said the accusations by Baltakos were groundless and said the courts have “acted on the basis of evidence and the law.”
Samaras and his coalition partner, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, who is the government’s Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister, set an April 4 meeting to go over the affair and try to contain political fallout with critical elections looming next month for Greek municipalities and the European Parliament.
Samaras and Venizelos held a long telephone conversation on April 3 to talk about the barrage of criticism directed at New Democracy and Baltakos’ claims that the crackdown was an attempt to get voters back from the extremists for the Conservatives.
With the video posted online, and Baltakos warning that others are coming, Samaras and New Democracy are bracing for what could be more damaging claims the government acted improperly and perhaps even criminally.
The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party that is posing a serious challenge in the elections because of its opposition to deeply unpopular austerity measures the government imposed on the orders of international lenders seized the opportunity to attack.
SYRIZA suggested that Baltakos’ hardline views had influenced the prime minister. “When we brought the Golden Dawn issue to Parliament and asked for the judicial system to intervene and for the police to do their job properly, they were silent,” said SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis, who accused Baltakos of using the neo-fasicists as a form of bogeyman to blackmail coalition MPs into voting for austerity bills.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras also asked Parliament to set aside time to debate the Baltakos matter in the next few days. He also said that Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou and Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, who Baltakos suggested had acted wrongly and pressured judges, should be forced out.
PASOK wants Samaras to act take action against any members of the government that could be deemed as holding extreme views. “When you tolerate fascism, you toy with democracy,” said Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, one of the party’s members of the Cabinet. “You lose your morals and soul.”
Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, who challenged Samaras for the party leadership in 2009, backed the Premier. “The government and the prime minister are still the guarantors of constitutional order, our country’s economic recovery and the safeguarding of our democratic institutions,” said Avramopoulos.
Government officials are also expecting that other coalition officials may surface in new secret videotapes that could show further incrimination and keep the issue alive.
Baltakos did not rule out this possibility when he spoke to Real FM. “There may be more videos and I may have said more things,” he said. “I cannot remember with which Golden Dawn MPs I met. I do not remember what else I have said and if I said something about the prime minister.”
He reiterated his insistence that Samaras did nothing wrong and knew nothing of his statements or his meeting with Golden Dawn’s deputy leader,Christos Pappas, one of the party leaders arrested as the government tries to dismantle the extremists.
“The prime minister did not know,” Baltakos said. “I was operating on my own initiative as a mediator for the good of the country. I wanted to dislodge the thousands of Greeks who had voted for Golden Dawn.”
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