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Cablegate: Convicted November 17 Terrorist Released From

VZCZCXYZ0013
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTH #1945/01 2061456
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251456Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY 0000

UNCLAS ATHENS 001945

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER GR
SUBJECT: CONVICTED NOVEMBER 17 TERRORIST RELEASED FROM
PRISON


REF: A. ATHENS 00942
B. 05 ATHENS 1775
C. 04 ATHENS 3870
D. ATHENS 00885

This message is sensitive but unclassified, please protect
accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: Convicted November 17 terrorist, Nikos
Papanastasiou, was released from prison on July 19 for
"health reasons." Papanastasiou was sentenced to eight years
imprisonment for "setting up and participating in a criminal
group," for his affiliation with the November 17 terrorist
organization. To date, the N17 organization has claimed
responsibility for twenty-one murders, including the killings
of a CIA Athens station chief, a U.S. Navy captain, a U.S.
defense attach, a Turkish diplomat, and a British defense
attach. Papanastasiou is the third convicted November 17
terrorist to be granted an early release from prison on
health grounds, possibly indicating a worrisome trend. End
summary.

-------------------------------------------
PAPANASTASIOU RELEASE COULD SIGNIFY A TREND
-------------------------------------------

2. (U) On December 17, 2003, Nikos Papanastasiou, now 54
years old, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for
"setting up and participating in a criminal group" (the
November 17 terrorist organization). Despite having only
partially served his sentence, Papanastasiou was released
from prison on July 19 on health grounds. (Note:
Papanastasiou was convicted of being affiliated with N17, but
was acquitted for homicide charges associated with the
attempted murder of American Sergeant Richard Judd, and the
murders of patrolman Chistos Matis, newspaper publisher Nikos
Momferatos, and Momferatos' driver Panayiotis Rousetis. End
Note). The Judicial Council, a panel of senior judges that
deals mainly with procedural issues and questions relating to
sentencing in closed session, granted Papanastasiou's early
release despite objections from the prosecutor. Because
Papanastasiou is the third N17 prisoner to be granted early
release based on health grounds, it is conceivable that a
potential trend is emerging that could continue to impact
other "non-serious" (convicted of 5-8 years on conspiracy or
related charges) N17 prisoners (reftels A, B, and C).

-----------------------------
PROSECUTOR OBJECTS TO RELEASE
-----------------------------

3. (SBU) The Piraeus First Instance Court Judicial Council
accepted Papanastasiou's application for conditional release,
despite the prosecutor's objections, because he had served
3/5 of his sentence working in prison (one work day in prison
counts for two), he has (undefined) "health problems," and he
had "demonstrated good behavior while detained." (Note: In
Greece, the prosecutor traditionally has remained silent or
responded favorably to "non-serious" terrorist early release
applications. This prosecutor's objection is obviously a
departure from the prevailing attitude, yet it would be
premature to interpret it as a significant shift in the
overall disposition of prosecutorial authorities toward
"secondary" terrorist suspects and/or convicted terrorists.
End note.)

-----------------------------------------
BACKGROUND ON JUDICIAL COUNCIL'S LENIENCY
-----------------------------------------

4. (U) The Judicial Council issues verdicts that are not
part of the public record, unlike judicial rulings in regular
courts. The Council focuses on issues related to the Code of
Criminal Procedure and rules on various aspects of applying
sentences, including cases such as Papanastasiou's where a
convicted person seeks relief from the continuing application
of his/her sentence by claiming various extraordinary
circumstances, possible new and potentially exonerating
evidence, and/or grounds of good behavior. The Council does
not conduct a trial and does not address and/or weigh
substantive issues relating to the crime of which a person is
convicted. Instead, it deals with the letter of law and
assesses whether the Code of Criminal Procedure has been
faithfully applied; in cases of petitions for relief (for
example, health grounds), the Council focuses on whether
various favorable legislative loopholes and other fine print
in the law may be applied. Theoretically, the Greek
judiciary does not respond to government pressure and is
considered "politically neutral."

--------------------------------------------- -
POTENTIAL TREND TO IMPACT "SERIOUS OFFENDERS?"
--------------------------------------------- -
5. (U) In contrast to Papanastasiou's "non-serious"
conviction, N17 mastermind Alexandros Yiotopoulos and top
hit-man Dimitris Koufodinas received (non-consecutive)
multiple life sentences for their "more serious" convictions
on December 17, 2003. Savvas Xyros, one of N17's main gunmen
whose arrest led to the unraveling of the terrorist group,
has been denied conditional release on health grounds despite
his suffering from serious health problems. However, even
these lifetime sentences do not guarantee true lifetime
punishment in Greece, as Greece's historical practice is to
have prisoners serve 20-25 years of a life sentence before
being released (reftel D).

6. (SBU) Comment: While Papanastasiou's early release appears
to be the beginning of a worrying trend, it is premature to
interpret the release as proof that the December 2003 N17
convictions are completely unraveling with widespread
releases (including Yiotopoulos and Koufodinas) soon to
follow. Papanastasiou's release could be attributed to many
converging factors including legislation favoring convicts
who have received relatively short sentences and subsequently
become model prisoners; the relatively lenient tradition of
Greek courts when reviewing petitions for relief lodged by
such prisoners; an astute defense strategy knowing how to
capitalize on "trial fatigue" (referring to the on-going,
laborious N17 appeals trial); and, last but not least, the
unceasing labors of leftwing human and political rights
groups, with a long tradition of defending terrorist
suspects, anarchists, and other "anti-authority militants."
On the other hand, because Papanastasiou is the third N17
prisoner to have been released early on health grounds
(preceded by Konstantinos Telios and Pavlos Serifis), there
may be credence to an "attrition theory" suggesting that the
Greek judicial system will incrementally consent to the early
releases of all "non-serious" N17 terrorists (convicted of
5-8 years on conspiracy or related charges). Given the
nature of N17's crimes, however, this is disturbing, to say
the least.
RIES

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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