Charges filed in alleged plot vs former Greek PM

March 14, 2012 - 5:26 PM

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A prosecutor opened a criminal case Wednesday in a suspected plot to remove then-Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis from power that was brought to light by a tip-off from Russia's spy agency, a court official said.

The official said prosecutor Nikos Ornerakis filed a felony count of conspiracy to destabilize the government against "persons unknown" after a preliminary investigation. The probe was sparked by local media reports over the summer alleging Russian intelligence services had uncovered a potential plot to topple or assassinate Karamanlis, who served as prime minister from 2004 to 2009.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said members of the Greek secret service, police and Karamanlis' security team were questioned during the investigation.

Ioannis Corantis, who headed Greece's National Intelligence Service at the time, told The Associated Press he was among those called to give evidence in the case, and confirmed that the service had received information from Russia's spy agency about a suspected plot against Karamanlis.

"The information was given to us by an official of the FSB," said Corantis, who is now holds a parliamentary seat for the right-wing LAOS party.

"This concerns events that supposedly happened in April 2008. We at the NIS were informed in January or February of 2009. I am not in a position to say what could be investigated further by the special prosecutor," he added.

Corantis did not give any details of the alleged plot or speculate who may have been behind it.

At the time, Karamanlis was seeking to improve energy ties with Russia and his government was negotiating over the South Stream pipeline project, which aims to transport Russian natural gas to Europe.

Corantis did not indicate whether Greece's intelligence agency had independently confirmed the FSB information.

But he said he considered the issue "a very serious case. And since the public prosecutor has decided to file criminal charges ... it is clear that this is serious and that it requires further investigation from the special prosecutor who will take over the case."

The press reports published last summer said the NIS informed Karamanlis' government in February 2009 about efforts to derail the country's energy policy and that Karamanlis' telephone conversations with then Russian President Vladimir Putin had become the target of wiretaps.

The reports also said that as part of its counter-espionage operations into the case, the FSB informed the Greek spy agency that it had uncovered a suspected plan to assassinate Karamanlis.

The presentation of the charges Wednesday means that the prosecutor, Ornerakis, found evidence of a plot but was not able, at the present stage of the investigation, to determine who was behind it.

"For a prosecutor to bring criminal charges for such severe and rare offenses that pertain to the life and the execution of the duties of a serving prime minister, he clearly has strong indications," Evangelos Antonaros, a conservative lawmaker and former spokesman for Karamanlis' government, told AP.

In 2004 during the Athens Olympics, Karamanlis as well as senior members of his government and judicial, law enforcement and military officials were the targets of a wiretapping operation. Although Greek authorities filed attempted espionage charges in the case last year, no suspects have been publicly named.

Corantis said it was unclear whether the two incidents were linked.

"I do not know if it is a coincidence or it happened by chance," he said. "But the target in the first case was the leading members of Karamanlis government and in the second instance, Mr. Karamanlis himself."

Under Greek law, charges can be brought against "persons unknown" when a specific suspect has not been identified. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum life sentence.

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Costas Kantouris contributed from Thessaloniki, Greece.