ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an extradition request for eight Turkish servicemen who fled their country by helicopter after a coup attempt. The ruling drew a furious response from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry which accused Athens of “protecting coup plotters.”
Presiding judge Giorgos Sakkas, reading out the decision, said the servicemen were unlikely to face a fair trial if returned to Turkey.
The eight officers fought extradition in a six-month legal battle, arguing that they face mistreatment in prison if returned.
Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis earlier this week had said he would respect the court decision and not use executive powers in the extradition case.
Lower courts issued mixed decisions on the return of the officers in a series of separate hearings.
The extradition case has soured complicated ties between neighbors and NATO allies Greece and Turkey, which remain at odds over war-divided Cyprus and boundaries in the Aegean Sea.
Shortly after Thursday’s decision, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued an angry response to Athens.
“Once again (Greece) has avoided doing the minimum necessary in the fight against terrorism and crime,” a statement said, adding that Ankara would “reassess” its relations with Greece.
Court officials told the AP that the extradition case was highly unlikely to be heard at a higher level, by a plenary session of the Supreme Court. The officials asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the news media.
Christos Mylonopoulos, a lawyer for the Turkish servicemen, described the ruling as “a great victory for European values, for Greek justice.”