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Politics

Parents of Greek Train Crash Victims Demand End of Ministers Immunity

ATHENS – As Greece’s Parliament debated a committee report into the February, 2023 train crash in Tempe that killed 57 – which rival parties said the New Democracy government has covered up – parents of two victims said two former transport ministers should have their immunity lifted and be prosecuted.

The ruling Conservatives have a majority on the panel that kept its work secret, some parents alleging a whitewash, and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) said the government is obstructing its investigation.

Maria Karystianou and Pavlos Aslanidis filed a request in Parliament for former New Democracy minister and sitting lawmaker Kostas Karamanlis and former SYRIZA minister Christos Spirtzis to be investigated over potential criminal liabilities in the tragedy.

DEBATE IN THE PLENARY SESSION OF PARLIAMENT ON THE FINDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE OF INQUIRY INTO THE FATAL TRAIN ACCIDENT IN TEMPE (YANNIS PANAGOPOULOS/EUROKINISSI)

That was based on EPPO’s investigation into the uncompleted contract for the signaling and telecontrol system on the railway, arguing EU law supersedes Greece’s Constitution.

and on the legal argument that EU law prevails over the Greek Constitution.

EPPO’s probe found indications of breach of duty and misappropriation of funds on the part of Spirtzis and Karamanlis, who were ultimately responsible for ensuring that the contract was implemented.

A man injured in the crash sued Karamanlis, alleging manslaughter with likely intent, compromising the safety of transport, resulting in grievous bodily harm in the head-on crash between a passenger and cargo train that immolated many.

The other six parties in Parliament filed reports set to be discussed although government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would not be at the debate, enabling him to avoid questions.

Marinakis said there hasn’t been any cover-up despite the investigation being kept secret before the New Democracy panel members essentially absolved the government, and he accused opposition parties, accusing opposition parties of “instrumentalizing the pain of the victims’ relatives.”

A poll by the company Alco on behalf of private broadcaster Alpha earlier in March showed that 77 percent of respondents believe there is a cover-up and that the railways still aren’t safe to ride on despite promises to install safety measures.

Under the Constitution, Members of Parliament and ministers can’t be prosecuted for alleged crimes unless their immunity is lifted, unlikely in the case of Karamanlis as New Democracy has a majority in Parliament.

A petition signed by 1.8 million people also demanded an end to immunity but was ignored by the government which hasn’t responded, although Mitsotakis said those found responsible would be held accountable.

Only the stationmaster on duty, only several days into the job, and a handful of railway executives have been charged, no politician nor executives of the Italian train company that operates the railways where safety measures weren’t implemented and still haven’t.

Opposition parties accuse the government of trying to conceal its responsibilities for the tragedy by limiting the number of witnesses called and the scope of the inquiry and keeping it under wraps from the public.

The head of EPPO, Laura Kövesi, told Kathimerini that the Constitutional provision in Greece protecting ministers from prosecution is “in breach of EU regulations and law” and should change because it’s impeding her office’s investigation.

“We have brought criminal proceedings against 23 public officials and, in accordance with the stipulations of the Greek constitution, we have not been able to conduct the investigation against former ministers who are possible suspects in the case,” she said.

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