The issue has sent shockwaves through the political system given the importance of Mr Baltakos’s position. He was one of the Prime Minister’s closest political advisers and effectively his right hand man. His sudden departure will rock the government and the video has raised questions of the access the supposedly ‘anti-establishment’ neo-nazi party had to the Prime Minister’s inner circle.
The footage (video and English transcript available here) had been presented by Kasidiaris in Parliament during a discussion over whether to lift his and four other Golden Dawn MPs parliamentary immunity in order to face charges included illegal possession of arms and belonging to a criminal organisation. Mr Kasidiaris presented the video as proof that the move to prosecute the ultranationalists amounted to a politically motivated plot directed by the Prime Minister. Despite the storm created over the video Parliament voted overwhelming to lift the immunity for the lawmakers clearing the way for prosecutors to file charges.
Mr Baltakos has offered his resignation over the video. In a written statement he denied that the conversation that had been secretly taped by Mr Kasidiaris amounted to proof that there was a plot against Golden Dawn:
“Everything that was said by me had the purpose of ridding myself of the pressures that were being exerted on me by the Golden Dawn MPs, accusing me of participating in a conspiracy against them…Due to the fact that the offices of the General Secretary of the government neighbour with those of the party’s MPs I had multiple irregular meetings with them. During one of these chance meetings immediately following the pretrial imprisonment of Mr Michaloliakos, Pappas and Lagos, Mr Kasidiaris asked to see me in private.”
“[He] began the discussion accusing me of participating in a conspiracy against them, a charge that had been repeatedly made in the previous days by him and other MPs of GD. I denied it and tried to free myself of the pressure. During the conversation everything I said had this goal and no other, that is to free myself of these pressures as the accusations of scheming did not have any basis in reality.”
In fact Mr Baltakos maintains, “over the next days when new evidence came to light, I had the opportunity to tell Mr Kasidiaris and others – indeed in the presence of many witnesses – that there was no plan or conspiracy against them, a conversation, of course, which the MP in question did not publicize.”
The Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told reporters earlier about the issue, “I don’t know the issue but if that’s how it is there is no place in the government for Mr Baltakos.”
Meanwhile Mr Baltakos’s son was reported to have punched and kicked Golden Dawn MPs outside their offices in Parliament angrily screaming obscenities and denouncing the group for ‘what they had done’ before being escorted from the building by police.
According to Kathimerini the incident began when a police officer outside the General Secretary’s office (which neighbors those of GD) kicked a GD MP as he passed. A scuffle broke out involving a number of Golden Dawn MPs and Mr Baltakos’s son who entered the Golden Dawn offices and hurling abuse, slapped one, kicked another and punched a third.
A video has now emerged of the incident:
The incident caused a tremendous commotion in the halls of parliament before Mr Baltakos left escorted by his father’s police guard.
In the video Mr Baltakos appeared to imply that the Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias and the Justice Minister Haris Athanasiou were carrying out a plot against Golden Dawn for political reasons.Today both ministers denied this charge.
“All that is said about me is the product of a deranged imagination,” Mr Dendias said a short while ago of the conversation in the video. “What is not imaginary are the 32 instances of criminal activities by Golden Dawn supporters which everyone knows I sent to the Supreme Court Prosecutor. What is also not a fiction… is that Mr Baltakos was requested to intervene in the Justice System in order for the charges to be lifted against Golden Dawn members.”
For his part Justice Minister Haris Athanasiou denied that he had intervened in the Golden Dawn case. “The segment which refers to my person is untrue,” he said of the video.
Aside from the allegations of a political plot, the casual tone and comfort with which Mr Baltakos is seen in the video talking to the Golden Dawn spokesperson was seen by many as confirmation of a sympathy the right wing politician is long suspected to have had for the neo-nazi party.
Coalition partner PASOK was quick to demand the resignation of Mr Baltakos. “The immediate resignation of Mr Baltakos is the least of it,” Paris Koukoulopoulos, the parliamentary spokesperson of PASOK said. “Affinities with racist views sooner or later come to light and are paid for,” he said and noted that PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos has referred to Mr Baltakos as ‘an old problem’.
Recently Mr Baltakos was behind the reinsertion of a highly controversial article in draft immigration reform bill that would see immigrants face deportation if they are unable to back up allegations of abuse by authorities. The measure has been condemned by many including the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner and is seen by many as an effort to suppress reporting of abuse by authorities.
SYRIZA spokesperson said that the case would have to be fully investigated by the courts.
“The General Secretary of the government and the MPs of Golden Dawn are talking like they are brothers, like buddies. P. Baltakos gives information makes revelations, names names, refers to communications with the judiciary, which are not consistent with the separation of powers. It is clear that it is not just a question of Mr Baltakos. The government will not be cleansed just with P. Baltakos’s resignation.”
“We ask that whoever has the entire video and to give it to parliament and to the parties and to the justice system. Parliament cannot continue as if nothing has happened, as if it is a hangnail. N. Dendias, H. Athanasiou and P Baltakos must come here, who comes in and out of the hall 20 times a day. They should come with the Prime Minister who is referred to in the video and we can discuss questions of democracy, of separation of powers, of honestly combating the nazi phenomenon,” Mr Papadimoulis concludes. “The video gives answers as to why Golden Dawn was above the law, They had close friends in the government.”
Meanwhile the Democratic Left (DIMAR) which had left the coalition government in the summer said that it had warned about what it called ‘black plans’.
“The [closure of public broadcaster] ERT was just the trigger for our departure from the government. DIMAR had a painful experience of what is now being revealed. DIMAR then charged that unfortunately some developments within New Democracy would not allow us to remain, as a political plan was being hatched which we deemed a ‘black plan’” the parliamentary spokesperson of DIMAR stated, adding that DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis had “charged that a circle close to the Prime Minister is having privileged discussions with Golden Dawn and playing a decisive role in developments.”
It should be noted that as well as General Secretary to the Government Mr Baltakos has been one of Mr Samaras’s closest political advisers in government. His sudden departure under these circumstances will be a serious blow to the Prime Minister with unpredictable as yet political repercussions.