In Greece, a wildfire of ‘Me Too’ allegations singes the cabinet

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Athens, Greece – The Greek MeToo movement lit by Olympian Sofia Bekatorou is becoming a wildfire that now burns uncomfortably close to the government.

Culture minister Lina Mendoni faces opposition calls to resign after two men accused the National Theatre director she appointed of raping them when they were barely adults.

Opposition leader Alexis Tsipras reissued his call on Tuesday for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, “to do the obvious, even at this late stage, and relieve Mendoni of her ministerial duties”.

“And he should apologise to the victims and the Greek people for his government’s mistakes,” said the leader of Syriza.

The accused, Dimitris Lignadis, resigned on February 6 after the first allegation became public, and turned himself in to police.

He is to answer to the prosecutor on Thursday.

“I don’t see anything the opposition did when it was in power to express what it now says, that Lignadis is a dangerous man,” Mendoni said during a news conference on February 19.

“He is a dangerous man, he is, but that is only apparent now,” she said, pointing out that Lignadis worked in other senior posts at the National Theatre under Syriza.

Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni faces opposition calls to quit because she appointed the accused National Theatre director [File: Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo]Lignadis, in a statement from prison, said: “How dangerous a person is in their life and work has to be judged by the responsible bodies.”

One national network insinuated that Lignadis sexually abused unaccompanied refugee minors, brought to his flat for drama lessons by aid groups in 2017-2018.

“I am in the vortex of a court of public opinion … I am hearing things, reading things, I never believed I would hear. This creates a climate, a huge climate against a person who is essentially alone,” Lignadis wrote in his statement.

Government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni admitted on Monday that Mendoni’s expression was “unfortunate”, but the general secretary for the protection of unaccompanied minors wrote to the Athens prosecutor demanding the “immediate, sustained and in-depth investigation of cases to do with unaccompanied minors, even those that may have been dropped due to the negligence of the perpetrators”.

The New Democracy government and Prime Minister Mitsotakis personally have embraced the MeToo movement, inviting victims to step forward.

Dozens of athletes and actresses have done so. But this is the first time the movement has claimed a government-appointed functionary.

Lignadis denies accusations

Lignadis’s defence attorney told Al Jazeera the charges are provably false because Lignadis was not where his accusers say he was at the times when the sexual assaults were alleged to have happened – in August 2010 and on August 8, 2015.

“Until the 15th of August 2010, Mr. Lignadis was in Egypt, as is evident from arrangements made via a travel agency, his hotel records, visa stamp and airline ticket, and after August 15 he spent 10 days in Epidauros, a week in Patra and a week in Korinth, and was not in Athens at all,” said Alexis Kougias.

“On the night of August 8, 2015, when he is supposed to have been in a hotel suite in Epidauros, we have evidence and witnesses, including well-known journalists, placing him on Ithaka.”

Kougias described the accusers, who say they were 15 and 18 years old in 2010 and 2015, as people who, “have sex with gays for 20 or 30 euros ($17 or $26), hang out in gay bars and pick people up”.

He believes the charges, which he describes as a “crude fabrication”, started as a campaign to eliminate Lignadis from the leadership of the actors’ union.

“It was then exploited politically to target the culture minister, who is responsible for disentangling the Hellenikon investment. There are ancient ruins there and this obstacle needs to be overcome,” he said.

Hellenikon is the 600-hectare (1,482-acre) prime real estate of Athens’ former airport, bought by Lamda Development in 2014 for 915 million euros ($1.1bn).

Touted as one of Europe’s largest urban regeneration projects, it has been dogged by delays and remained essentially frozen under the 2015-2019 Syriza government.

The governing New Democracy government is trying to relaunch it as part of its promise to bring growth and jobs.

Mendoni said officials had “pressed Lignadis hard to tell us if he had anything to do with the [allegations]”.

“Here, I feel Lignadis deceived us. He employed the full extent of his art to convince us he had nothing to do with all this,” she said.

Kougias, meanwhile, said his client may sue Mendoni for calling him a dangerous man.

“Lignadis has never denied leading a dissolute life,” he said. “He is both an active and a passive type. But he has never raped.”

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