Sixty-three charged with gold smuggling to start testifying to examining magistrate

The 63 people arrested on charges of illegally smuggling gold out of the country will start to present their testimony to the examining magistrate handling the case on Friday. The process is expected to continue right through to Sunday, with the large number of suspects split up into groups.

Scheduled to testify on Friday is the most widely known of the 63 suspects, the owner of a chain of 80 pawn shops throughout Greece that had also starred in his own television advertisements.

According to his lawyer Alexis Kougias, he denies all the charges and claims his activities are entirely legal, while he will ask for an extension until Sunday to prepare his statement.

The alleged members of the two gangs involved face a series of serious criminal charges, including four felonies, and will have to answer to charges drawn up by the police after a lengthy surveillance operation lasting many months.

The charges against them include that of forming a criminal organisation, smuggling, money laundering and usury. They also face misdemeanour charges of violating drugs legislation, weapons law, fencing and forgery.

The 51-year-old pawn-shop owner is accused of collecting large quantities of gold from his own and other pawn shops and then smuggling this out to Turkey and other countries, bypassing capital controls in the process.

A prominent goldsmith also played a crucial role in a second gang, which again involved other pawn shop owners, foreigners and known criminals.