A mini furor erupted in Greece this week with a recommendation by the bench prosecutor in an explosive child sexual exploitation and prostitution trial to acquit one of two primary defendants of a trio of felony counts, including rape.

Conversely, the same prosecutor recommended to a mixed jurist-jurors (three to four) panel that the same defendant – grocer Ilias M. – be found guilty of other equally serious felonies that carry a “life sentence” – roughly 20 years per conviction based on Greece’s less than draconian penal code.

Nevertheless, the widely reported recommendation by the female prosecutor generated a firestorm of criticism and vilification on social media, political debate and even street protests.

Roughly two dozen individuals are being tried on numerous charges related to the sexual abuse and prostitution of a then 12-year-old girl in the working-class central Athens district of Kolonos.

The prosecutor called on the jury panel to convict the 56-year-old main defendant of egregious exploitation of a minor under the age of 14 by a person of their trust, a major felony. The latter also faces unrelated charges of weapons possession and possession of pornography showing minors, among others.

The other main defendant in the trial is the victim’s mother, who prosecutors have painted as the primary procuress of her own daughter. Many of the other defendants are accused of statutory rape of a minor under the age of 14, a felony.

Fallout reaches Parliament

The public opinion uproar over the prosecutor’s recommendations made it to Parliament’s floor on Thursday, with the government deflecting accusations of bias but also going on the counter-offensive to revisit a controversial penal code revision by the then leftist SYRIZA government in the waning days of its power.

“A fundamental respect of the justice system’s operation requires us to wait for the court decision to be announced … There’s criticism of a decadent Greek justice system and a lack of public confidence because the trial is being held behind closed doors …which means we cannot monitor it and have no information,” Justice Minister Giorgos Floridis said in Parliament, before launching into a full-blown attack against the Tsipras government in power in 2019.

“The Tsipras government tried to revise the rape of a minor offence from a felony to a misdemeanor, but relented due to reactions by MPs of his own party…You wanted rapists to go unpunished. This was your concern for victims. You eventually reduced the sentence to 15 from 20 years,” Floridis charged.

In reply, New Left party deputy Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, a top member of the Tsipras Cabinet in 2019 before defecting from SYRIZA last year, called Floridis a “liar” and “defamer”, to which the minister replied with statements opposing the penal code revisions by ruling party MPs at the time.

Conversely, the center-right government has attracted heightened contempt by social media critics and a portion of the media due to the fact that the main defendant was a long-standing local cadre of ruling New Democracy (ND) party, with numerous photographs surfacing with him happily posing with top ND office-holders and politicians. The latter has fueled a perception of mistrust and collusion in some quarters of society.