Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis said Thursday that Athens is exploring whether eight former Turkish soldiers who fled to the country after the failed coup attempt of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) against Turkish government and President Tayyip Erdoğan can be tried in Greece.
The minister's remarks come a week after Greek authorities released one of the suspects and granted him asylum on Dec. 29. The suspect, Süleyman Özkaynakçı, was among the soldiers who hijacked a military helicopter to flee to Greece when the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, blamed on the FETÖ, was quelled.
The release angered Turkey and the Foreign Ministry released a damning statement accusing Athens of "protecting and embracing the plotters" and naming it a political move. The Greek Prime Ministry announced that it had applied for an invalidation of the Asylum Appeals Authority to grant asylum to Özkaynakçı. However, a statement by the Greek Foreign Ministry Sunday said, "Democracies cannot be threatened."
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 two countries, which recently sought to improve their relations with a past tainted with hostilities, has agreements in place in the fight against terrorism.
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.
After the coup attempt, eight pro-coup soldiers, including two commanders, four captains and two sergeants, escaped to Greece in a Sikorsky helicopter and landed in Alexandroupolis. Following their landing, they asked for asylum from Greek authorities. Before their asylum request was taken to court, a Greek court sentenced the eight men to a suspended two-month jail sentence for illegal entry into Greece.
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 Aegean islands and airspace.
Greek courts have already rejected requests the soldiers be extradited to Turkey.
"The extradition issue is definitely closed," Kontonis said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first Turkish president in decades to visit Greece after he traveled to the country last year. During Erdoğan's visit, Tsipras assured Turkey that the coup plotters would not be welcome in the country.
Greece is among the favorite destinations of FETÖ suspects facing jail time in Turkey, and since the coup attempt, dozens have been captured en route to the country that shares a maritime border with Turkey.
Since the attempted coup, around 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial for ties to FETÖ while more than 150,000 have been sacked or suspended from their jobs in the military, public and private sectors.