13 February, 2010

Greek Tragedy - Part II

Stephen Anas was also charged with Toula Soravia's murder, but he left for Greece less than a month after the shooting, before he could be arrested. He joined his ex-wife Laurie Sellis and her family in the city of Ioannina, seven hours north of Athens, and adapted his name to Stavros Anastasiatis. Police issued a warrant for his arrest through Interpol, leading to his apprehension in October 1995. The Australian government then attempted to have Anas extradited to Sydney to face trial, but this failed in 1996, as the Greek government said the Australian-born 33-year-old was now a Greek National. However, in a legal first, the Greek goverment honoured an existing treaty agreement and decided to put him on trial in Greece for his role in the killing, charging him with being the 'moral instigator' of the crime.

Anas was under strict bail conditions to report regularly to Ioanninan police, but in August 2007 he failed to do so, and disappeared to Athens. He was then due to stand trial in October 1999, but he claimed he was ill and needed to have his appendix removed, so the trial did not go ahead. It was next listed for May 2000, butAnas managed to avoid trial for the second time by signing up for Greek national miliarty service and joining the army. Upon discovering the legal situation (thanks to extensive negotiations between Australia's Federal Justice Minister and her Greek equivalent) the Greek army gave him leave to stand trial in June, however that trial collapsed.

The fourth attempt at trial began in January 2001, with Anas maintaining his innocence from the dock. Unfortunately the numerous delays had led to one witness refusing to return to Greece anymore, and the remaining eye-witness, Eugene Benitez, was running out of patience. He said he found the process intimidating: "I'll see how I go with this trial, this is bloody nerve-wracking." Benitez had identified Anas as the driver of the white Toyota.

Widower Louis Soravia, who had been fighting for seven years to see Anas tried for the murder of his wife, was also worried. "Its been sort of frustrating. This is the fourth time and definitely if something goes wrong it is hard to predict if we are going to be here next time or not". Although Louis was not a witness to the robbery and therefore not able to give evidence in Australian courts, he opened the case for the prosecution in Ioannina. When trying to tell the court of his 33-year marriage to Toula, and the devastating effect her death had had on his family, he was told by Judge Spiros Mexas to stick to the facts of the case. The defence, led by Ioannina Deputy Mayor Nicolos Gondos, tried to damage Louis' credibility by accusing him of beginning a relationship with another woman just two months after Toula's death. He also admitted he had received $50,000 from an insurance policy on Toula's life. Louis denied his new relationship (with Nicoletta, a Greek woman he married in 2000 in Sydney) began shortly after his wife's death.

Anas' ex-wife Laurie Sellis also gave evidence, maintaining that Anas was innocent, and that he was at home with her at the time of the shooting. She said they were "childhood sweethearts" who had been together since they were 15. Under cross-examination she was forced to admit that before the offence Anas had threatened to kill her, and that she'd taken out a restraining order against him. She also admitted there were problems in her marraige and that they had separated for a "brief" time. She took the opportunity to attack Louis Soravia, saying he had lied about the amount of insurance he received "First of all I know he is married, and I personally know he did not get $50,000. He got $200,000."

Judge Mexas threw out Ms Sellis's 'new' alibi evidence for her husband, saying "Why has it taken you five years to tell a court about this alibi? You have never mentioned it before." He read from previous court transcripts in which Anas claimed he had been at Instint with Jullio Quinteros at the time. She replied that if she had mentioned it in Austalia, Anas would have been breaking his restraining order. However the Judge said the order was not relevant in Greece and threw out her alibi. He also challenged her about other inconsistencies in her evidence.

Eugene Benitez gave his evidence that he recognised Anas as the driver of the getaway car, however ongoing problems with the translation from Greek to English and back again frustrated Mr Soravia, who kept interrupting loudly. He was repeatedly reprimanded by Judge Mexas for interfering with proceedings, and was eventually thrown out of the court. However the Judge later relented and allowed him back in. Benitez was questioned by Mexas: "How could you have seen the driver, when according to the sketch [of the scene] you have drawn for the court, and taking into account that you drive on the left-hand side in Australia, you could only have seen the passenger?" Benitez maintained he had seen Anas. The Judge also asked "In previous testimony you said that you saw the car for one second, now you claim you saw it for four seconds. Which is correct?" Mr Benitez replied "About four seconds."

In the earlier trials in Australia Mr Benitez had said he was wearing sunglasses when he made the observation, but in Greece he stated that they were not really sunglasses but glasses, and that he had also been wearing contact lenses. These inconsistencies led to his evidence being discredited.

NSW Detective Sergeant Jason Breton, who had travelled to Greece several times to give evidence in the case, was found to be ineligible under Greek law because he had previously come into contact with defence witnesses.

Anas eventually gave evidence, and accused Hakki Souleyman of framing him: "Everything Hakki said was a lie." He said Souleyman planned the robbery with Jullio Quinteros, who was a drug dealer: "Hakki knew that Quinteros was responsible but because of his drug addiction he needed Quinteros, so he framed me." Anas then claimed that on the morning of the shooting he was at a pub trying to buy drugs. This contradicted his earlier claim that he was at Instint with Quinteros, and also Ms Sellis' claim that he was at home with her. He was then asked about mobile telephone records that showed he was in the area of the shooting in Summer Hill at the time, but he told the court that Telstra records were wrong, and that this was a "common problem" in Australia.

Judge Mexas dismissed his explanations, saying "What you have said so far does not make any sense at all. We don't have the slightest evidence that Hakki or Quinteros had any connection to this incident. We find it difficult to believe that a friend of yours, a good friend of yours, could accuse you of such a thing. Usually a naive man like Hakki does not lie. He tells the truth." Anas then claimed that Souleyman framed him because he (Anas) was more popular with women - "probably because I am better looking."

In Greece, as throughout most of Europe, criminal trials are conducted under the Inquisitorial system, rather than the Adversarial system seen in Austalia, America, Canada, Great Britain and most other Commonwealth countries. Not only can judges ask questions and cross-examine witnesses, members of the jury are also allowed ask questions of the witness. The four jurors asked "The court has heard how when Hakki told you that Mrs Soravia had been shot, you said "I don't give a shit". Is that true?" Anas said No. He then launched an attack on Louis Soravia, saying he was "very powerful and very dangerous. If I don't get convicted I'll be dead in a month." He also said Louis was a "bad father", and forced his sons to "steal" from the service station because he gave them so little.

Louis and Toula's son Alex, who was a passenger in the car when his mother was shot at point-blank range, was devastated by the accusations levelled at his father. "I am very close to dad, I love him very much and I have a lot of respect for him. And the way they made my dad look was absolutely disgraceful... Its been pretty stressful... Just sitting there across from him and seeing the way he acts makes you realise what type of vermin of society that he actually is. I think in some ways, a conviction, after all we have been through, getting him in jail will be a win for us."

Judge Mexas then questioned Anas about inconsistencies in his earlier evidence, and asked him "So you say you love this country so much, and that you trust this justice system, how many times have you bothered to come to this country? Or is it true that you came here just one month after the murder?" Anas admitted it was true he had never been to Greece before this. He also stated he was allowed to leave Australia because the police did not have enough evidence to keep him there.

Anas' mother, who had travelled to Greece from Melbourne with his father, was next to give evidence. In what was described as bitter, angry and emotional evidence, she dramatically accused Louis Soravia of killing her other son. George, the younger brother of Stephen suffered from diabetes which led to his death in 1996, however she claimed he died after seeing his brother on TV during the investigation. "I feel sorry for Toula Soravia, but I hate her husband. He never came to ask me about my son. That man is the only person responsible for my son's death." She also accused Louis of lying over the amount of insurance money he received. She insisted Steve was a good, church-going son with strong family values: "I am a very proud Greek and I wanted my son to be a very proud Greek as well."

Judge Mexas asked Mrs Anas "Did your son ever take drugs?" She replied that "I have never seen anything like that." Judge Mexas then informed her that the court had evidence of Stephen's involvement with drugs. Mrs Anas also tried to support one of her son's alibis by claiming he had received a parking ticket on the morning of the shooting, however Judge Mexas told her the matter had already been investigated and there was no such ticket.

In summing up, the prosecution described Anas as immodest and arrogant. "This is a man who loves himself to death... He believes that he is intelligent, cool, good looking, and right about everything. He said he wanted to be tried under the Greek justice system because it was so fair. How did he know it was fair when he didn't even know Greece? He just went to Mykonos and Santorini for a holiday". The lawyer said Anas had told a "barrage of lies", painting a massive conspiracy involving the police, the witnesses, the media and the Soravias. "This is a man who grew up playing rugby, which is a violent sport, he loved fast cars, and he went to a very tough school where he said he got into a lot of fights. Therefore he became a very aggressive person. Even his wife said he threatened to kill her and that she took out a restraining order against him." He said Laurie Sellis "had lied through her teeth" when she attempted to give him an alibi.

Mr Katsantonis, one of the most revered lawyers in Greece, told the court Anas was a "smart-arse.. He sat in this court room and told all of us nothing of the incident but only of himself. He told us how he and Hakki had many girlfriends. He told us about his fast cars and what a good athlete he was. He has the typical behaviour of all immigrant criminals who believe that the police hate them, conspire against them, and always gets treated badly by the police." Anas frowned throughout, although earlier he had winked at family and friends, confident of the outcome.

Mr Katsantonis continued his tirade against Anas and his evidence. "Steve Anas' demeanour, his way of communicating, everything about him says 'shit, fuck off''. His parents came into court to tell us what a good kid he was, but when he wasn't believed by anyone in this court, they started blaming the Australian press. Anas even had the nerve to say why didn't Mr Soravia go find him and ask him what happened. However it was Anas who was twenty times obliged to go and tell him 'Louis, I'm innocent, I will help you find out who killed your wife."

The panel of three judges and four jurors acquitted Anas of all charges, by a majority vote of four to three (Judge Mexas and two jurors voted to convict, the other two judges and remaining two jurors voted to acquit). Mrs Anas rushed up to her son, wailing, thanking the Greek legal system and God for freeing her son: "This was God's gift". The presiding Judge, Spiros Mexas stated "Even though I found him guilty on both counts, the jury has ruled against my decision". Mr Soravia was numb: "I am in total disbelief by this court's acquittal." The Greek prosecution said it would consider an appeal, however Louis said it was time to "turn the page" and devote the rest of his life to his family.

As he was put in a van to be returned to military service in Samos, he shouted to his father that he loved him. He also asked that two bottles of whisky be delivered to the Greek police who sat beside him during the trial. Two days later, he flew to Athens instead, as he had been released by the Greek army from completing his military service, due to the time he spent in custody awaiting the trial.

He said "I want to get my life back in order and do everything right, by the law, and just get on with my life. I want to come back to Australia one day, of course I do. I am going to do that one day, whether I do it today, tomorrow, or the next day, I am going to do it one day. I am not scared... I've got to go back to bury my brother... People tell me they are writing that Australia's most wanted is free in Greece. How can I be Australia's most wanted? My God, I have a clean record... I feel I have been unjustly treated by the media and I hope something positive will happen now... I was kept in an army jail for, like, seven months and they said the army is finished for me. I can't believe I am free. Its been a really rough seven months, but I am free."

The news understandably angered Louis Soravia: "I can't believe it. He was supposed to do 15 months [national service]. This is a joke. Its an absolute joke." Anas refused to comment on Mr Soravia, but said "All I know is I feel sorry for Alex Soravia, what he went through is unbelievable. But I have been to hell and back too. Everybody who was involved in that crime, they deserve to be behind bars for the rest of their lives. That's it, you take a life, you lose a life, that's the way it goes. But it doesn't really concern me much anymore."

Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery said that Anas would face arrest if he ever returned to Australia: "This is not the absolute and automatic end to this matter."

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