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sean binder

All misdemeanour charges against Irishman Seán Binder in Greece dropped

Indictments were thrown out this morning following a recommendation from the prosecutor.

LAST UPDATE | 13 Jan 2023

-Stephen McDermott reporting from Lesbos

ALL MISDEMEANOUR CHARGES against Irishman Seán Binder have been thrown out by a Greek court. 

Following a recommendation from the prosecutor, the judge in the case ruled that the vast majority of the charges against the Kerry man and 23 other people relating to the smuggling of migrants should be dropped.

In a hearing on the island of Lesbos today, the prosecutor told the judge that the charges against all of the foreign co-accused (including Binder) should be annulled because the indictments weren’t translated from Greek.

He also said that espionage charges against Greeks on the charge sheet should be annulled because of a vagueness about what they are said to be accused of and when they were accused of it.

The indictments were subsequently thrown out. 

One charge of forgery, which a number of Binder’s co-accused face, will go to a different court after the judge found that the court in which that charge was being heard today did not have the authority to rule on it.

The court rose shortly before 9.30am, when a roll call of the defendants was read out and each of those in the courtroom today confirmed their presence.

At the beginning of today’s proceedings, defence teams lodged an additional objection to the multitude of procedural flaws in the case highlighted on Tuesday’s hearing.

Solicitors for some of the accused argued that charges against their clients based the disclosure of information had been brought under an old law, which lapsed two years ago.  

The court rose for a brief recess shortly afterwards, as the judge and prosecutor considered this new objection.

Upon its return, the prosecutor issued a number of recommendations to annul most of the charges, stating that defendants had a right to receive indictments in a language they could understand and that charges of espionage against the defendants were too vague.

Defence solicitors then re-stated their objections to the proceedings, with one solicitor stating that the case had brought negative attention to the Greek judicial system and questioning why it had taken so long to get to today’s hearing.

The court rose for another recess shortly after 11am to allow the judge to consider the objections and recommendations of the prosecutor, before returning around two hours later, when the judge made her ruling to annul most of the charges and to move the charge of forgery to a different court.

‘All we want is justice’

Binder and two of his co-defendants still however face up to 25 years in prison if found guilty on separate felony offences for which they are currently being investigated – but no charges have been brought.

Speaking to the media on the steps of the courthouse after the ruling, he said the finding was “not justice”.

“This is not justice; this is the prosecution realising four years later that they needed to issue a translated an indictment, an indictment that wasn’t completely vague,” he said.

“That’s all we wanted. It means that we don’t get to go to trial, it means that we don’t get to have us found not guilty. It is simply a procedural mistake that means that this can’t proceed.

“And if it’s the same tactic that’s deployed again for the felony trial, which we’re still waiting to happen, it’s 15 more years of waiting. All we want is justice.”

Binder’s solicitor also hit out at the finding, suggesting that felony charges against Binder could still be brought.

“The investigation is still ongoing even though we have presented the full evidence that all accusations are baseless,” Zacharias Kesses told The Journal

“The investigator is delaying and we are still waiting for the file to be closed and sent to the Judicial Council.

“The Judicial Council then decide whether those people will be indicted… The charges should be dropped. There is no evidence. This is the biggest attempt at criminalising humanitarian assistance throughout Europe. The first part finished today, the second will need more time.”

Binder, who was born in Germany but raised in Castlegregory, Co Kerry, travelled to the island of Lesbos in 2017 to volunteer with a Greek NGO that carried out search-and-rescue operations and alerted authorities about migrants crossing from nearby Turkey.

He and his 23 co-accused were subsequently charged with a range of offences by the Greek authorities, including misdemeanour counts of espionage-related offences, illegal access to state communications and assisting criminal activity.

All defendants denied the accusations against them, saying they wanted to save the lives of migrants when the island was overwhelmed by refugee arrivals from Turkey.

Earlier hearing

A court in Lesbos heard on Tuesday that the charges cannot be defended fairly because the prosecution has not provided specific evidence to support the case against the co-accused.

It was the first time the court heard the case since November 2021, when it was adjourned on procedural grounds.

Multiple solicitors for the co-accused argued that charges against the defendants were too vague to enable each of the accused to properly defend themselves.

They claimed subpoenas issued by the prosecution did not contain any evidence for the crimes alleged to have been committed, and did not refer to specific dates on which the alleged crimes took place.

The court also head that an accusation of espionage against the co-defendants did not refer to the type of information that was alleged to have been shared or what state secret had been leaked.

The judge agreed to adjourn the case until this morning, when she could rule on whether to accept or reject the submissions made on behalf of the co-accused.

Amnesty International has called on the Greek authorities to drop the case, describing the charges as baseless and claiming that the volunteers were simply “helping refugees and migrants at risk of drowning at sea”.

Speaking outside court on Tuesday, Binder said his defence team had provided “irrefutable” reasons why the charges against him should be dropped.

“The prosecution has made mistake after mistake: they’ve violated our human rights; they’ve made procedural errors; they’ve done everything possible so that this trial can’t happen,” he said.

“All we’re asking for, all our lawyers have demanded, is that the rule of law is respected and that Greek laws are respected.”

Binder has already spent more than 100 days in jail in Lesbos after being twice arrested in 2018 on misdemeanour charges including espionage, forgery and unlawful use of radio frequencies.