January 4, 2018 / 1:27 PM / 2 years ago

Greece explores if Turkish soldiers can be tried in Greece

ATHENS (Reuters) - Athens is exploring whether eight Turkish soldiers who fled to the country after a failed coup attempt against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan can be tried in Greece, Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The eight Turkish soldiers, who fled to Greece in a helicopter and requested political asylum after a failed military coup against the government, are escorted by police officers as they arrive at the Supreme Court in Athens, Greece, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Kontonis said Turkey would first need to make an official request for such a trial, which has not looked likely so far as Turkey has twice sought their extradition to face justice at home.

“The possibility of them being tried here for crimes committed abroad is being explored,” Kontonis told reporters during a news briefing. “The prime minister (Alexis Tsipras) has said that they must have a fair trial.”

Kontonis said that such a trial may be possible under the Greek penal code.

The trial could be on some, but not all, of the charges brought by Turkey or new ones. The two countries have signed agreements on criminal acts such as terrorism and the penal code may apply to both Greeks and foreigners in that case, regardless of where any crimes were committed.

The soldiers are not accused of anything by Greece.

The eight men - three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors - flew to Greece by helicopter on July 16 in 2016, saying they feared for their lives.

Turkey, which regards the soldiers as traitors, has accused Athens of harbouring coupists. Greece denies the accusations and says justice is independent.

Kontonis’ statements are the latest twist in the case which has strained relations between Athens and Ankara, the two NATO allies who are at odds over a host of issues from ethnically split Cyprus to sovereignty over airspace.

Greek courts have already rejected requests the soldiers be extradited to Turkey.

“The extradition issue is definitely closed,” Kontonis said.

On Dec. 29 an asylum board granted asylum to one of the soldiers, a pilot, a decision which further angered Turkey.

The Greek government appealed against that decision and a court will look into the case again. The soldier has been released.

Since the attempted coup, Turkish authorities have jailed around 50,000 people pending trial while more than 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs in the military, public and private sectors.

Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Michele Kambas anbd Alison Williams

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