ATHENS (Reuters) - A senior aide to Greece’s prime minister resigned on Wednesday after the far-right Golden Dawn party said a video showed him suggesting the government had tried to press judges to jail its members.
Government Secretary General Takis Baltakos did not refer directly to the comments he was reported to have made in the video, but said he was stepping down because of the furore caused by the video released online and shown on television.
Police and magistrates have been investigating charges that Golden Dawn, its members and supporters were involved in a series of violent attacks, including the killing of a left-wing rapper in September.
The anti-immigrant party, which rode a wave of anger against harsh austerity measures to become the third largest political force at elections in 2012, has denied any wrongdoing and accused the government of a politically motivated crackdown.
Golden Dawn’s leader and other senior members have been detained pending trial on charges of belonging to a criminal organisation.
The video, which appeared to have been secretly recorded, shows Baltakos talking to a person off screen.
When asked in the video why the MPs had been detained, Baltakos makes a hand gesture of a phone call being made. When asked if Justice Minister Charalambos Athanassiou and Police Minister Nikos Dendias made the call, he replies: “Who else?”
Both ministers issued a statement denying any involvement. Athanassiou said: “Greek justice is independent”.
Without referring to the video, Baltakos said in a statement that he had talked to Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who accused him of being part of a conspiracy against the party.
“I denied it and tried to get rid of the pressure. Everything I said during the discussion was aimed at this, and nothing else, just to get rid of this pressure,” Baltakos said.
“I submitted my resignation due to the uproar and for personal reasons. I’m sorry for the trouble caused,” he said.
Kasidiaris, a Golden Dawn lawmaker, had earlier presented a copy of what he called a transcript of the video to parliament, saying it proved the investigations were a government conspiracy.
“A senior government official confesses that the charges were pressed against Golden Dawn because it’s stealing votes from (Prime Minister Antonis) Samaras,” Kasidiaris told lawmakers.
Parliament later on Wednesday voted to strip legal immunities from Kasidiaris and four other Golden Dawn lawmakers, clearing the way for another round of criminal charges against its members.
Four of the lawmakers named on Wednesday, including the party leader’s wife Eleni Zaroulia, will now be charged with belonging to a criminal organisation, said authorities.
Kasidiaris, now that his immunity from prosecution has gone, faces a lesser charge of carrying an unregistered firearm.
Investigating magistrates have said they plan to charge all 18 people elected as Golden Dawn lawmakers in 2012 and other senior supporters with membership of a criminal organisation. Six of them are already in pre-trial detention.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Harry Papachristou; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Sonya Hepinstall