December 6, 2016 / 1:17 PM / 3 years ago

Greek court says three Turkish soldiers can be extradited

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court ruled on Tuesday that three Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece after a failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan in July could be extradited, court officials said.

The three were among a group of eight who fled to northern Greece in a helicopter and sought political asylum, saying they feared for their lives in Turkey.

Turkey has asked Greece to extradite all eight, alleging that they were involved in the July 16 coup attempt and has called them traitors. They all deny involvement in the attempt to oust Erdogan, which has led to a purge of the military and civil service.

The Appeals Court ruled that the three soldiers should be returned to Turkey to stand trial for three of the four crimes it accuses them of - attempting to abrogate the constitution, attempting to dissolve parliament, and seizing a helicopter using violent means - but not for attempting to assassinate Erdogan, the officials said.

The three have appealed to Greece’s Supreme Court, said Stavroula Tomara, a lawyer representing them in their claims for political asylum.

If Greek courts decide the soldiers should face trial in Turkey, that would override their asylum applications and they would be sent back to Turkey, a court official said.

On Monday, the Appeals Court ruled that three other Turkish soldiers should not be returned home. But a chief Athens prosecutor has appealed that ruling, court officials said.

Greece’s Supreme Court must make a final ruling on that appeal within eight days according to Greek law, the officials added.

The Appeals Court was expected to rule on the extradition of the last two soldiers on Thursday. [L5N1E04AM]

A board of first instance - a committee of experts that processes asylum requests - has rejected the asylum applications of five of the soldiers, who have appealed those decisions. The board has yet to decide on the other three applications.

The soldiers have been held in protective custody pending the outcome of their asylum applications and extradition hearings.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson

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