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FACTDROP: Journalism in Greece: "Is that a crime?"


Journalism in Greece: "Is that a crime?"

(Background of Lagard list and Mr. Vaxevanis:

On 28 October 2012, Greek reporter and editor Kostas Vaxevanis claimed to be in possession of the Lagarde list and published a document with 2,056 names in his magazine Hot Doc. The next day he was arrested for breaching privacy laws with possible sentences of up to two years in prison. Three days later in trial Vaxevanis was found not guilty. On 26 October 2012, the Greek magazine Zouyka apparently pre-empted the publication of the HOT DOC release of the "Lagarde List" by publishing scanned pages of HOT DOC magazine's Greek Lagarde List in full.)

Kostas Vaxevanis: Greek justice and freedom of the press exist in name only

Πηγή: Xindex
By Kostas Vaxevanis / 20 April 2015

Criminal defamation continues to be an issue that individual governments across Europe must address. The prosecution of investigative journalists, who base their reporting on official documents as we saw in Greece, will have a detrimental effect on media freedom, the right of free expression and the public interest. Index calls on Greece -- and all European Union member states where it remains in penal codes -- to urgently reform domestic law to take defamation out of the criminal sphere.

The justice system of Greece is often compared to a very thin fishing net, which catches the small fish, but which allows the bigger, stronger fish to break free.

It is a widely-held belief in Greece that there is a lack of justice administered by the country’s judicial system, and this belief is confirmed if one looks at recent history.

None of the major scandals of recent years — ranging from that of the Athens Stock Exchange to the scandal involving judges who conspired in the rigging of court cases — resulted in any guilty verdicts.

A few days ago, the Greek justice system sentenced former finance minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou to a mere 12 months’ imprisonment for his removal of names from the so-called Lagarde List of alleged Greek tax evaders with Swiss bank accounts, while he was not convicted for the most serious charges against him, namely, his inaction with regard to the individuals named on the list. However, this paradoxical situation, in which the Greek justice system charged and attempted to prosecute me on two occasions over the publication of the Lagarde List but did not sentence the government minister who concealed it, does not stop here. At the same time that a Greek court issued a paltry 12 month prison sentence to Papakonstantinou, a different court sentenced me to a 26 month suspended sentence, following charges that were filed against me by one of Greece’s major oligarchs, businessman Andreas Vgenopoulos.

Investigative reports which were publicised in the magazine which I publish, Hot Doc, revealed that Andreas Vgenopoulos had purchased the Cyprus-based Marfin Bank, which he then utilized in order to provide capitalization to other business interests of his and to those of his fellow oligarchs. According to the Cypriot government, Vgenpoulos’ actions with Marfin Bank was one of the main factors which resulted in the collapse of the country’s economy.

All of the reports which were published in Hot Doc were derived form official documents from the parliament of Cyprus, from Cypriot prosecutors, from Greek courts, and from the central banks of Greece and Cyprus. On the basis of documentation, anti-corruption prosecutors were obliged to launch an investigation regarding the financial activities of Vgenopoulos.

Even though this investigation is still in progress, along with a parallel investigation being conducted by Cypriot authorities, who have also issued a warrant for the freezing of Vgenopoulos’ assets totaling €2.4 billion, I was tried and sentenced by a Greek court on charges of libel. In court, I provided documentation from the vice prosecutor of the Greek Court of Appeals, who was requesting that Greek authorities investigate Vgenopoulos on allegations of bribery and money laundering based on evidence held by Cypriot authorities. Despite this, I was found guilty and issued a sentence that is greater than that issued by the Greek judicial system to a former Greek government minister, Giorgos Papakonstantinou.

In contrast to the standards of European law and European court decisions, which have made it clear that journalists are obligated to maintain a critical stance and, often, a strong and aggressive tone towards public figures, the Greek court which tried me concocted “malicious intent” on my part. Indeed, it is notable that the prosecutor, who was the same individual which had requested that I be sentenced for my revelation of the Lagarde List, on the basis of an unprecedented assertion: that I am “a very good journalist”, which means that my actions were undertaken “with malicious intent, and not out of ignorance”. This is unprecedented in global legal history.

Following my sentencing, numerous international organizations and actors responded, including the OSCE and the International Federation of Journalists, but once again, the only reaction in Greece was a guilty silence. At the present time, I am personally facing, along with Hot Doc magazine, no less than 42 different criminal cases and lawsuits. These are charges filed by politicians and oligarchs, whom we have investigated as part of our journalistic responsibilities. None of these individuals have officially responded to any of our revelations, as public figures are obliged to do.

Instead, they have resorted to legal means while attempting to influence public opinion by saying that they “will punish the slanderer in court”. In this way, they avoid responding to the revelations made against them and employ the justice system in their favour, to hold journalists hostage. It should be noted that Hot Doc’s legal bills for all of these different cases have surpassed €100,000.

The ultimate aim of this coordinated effort of charges and lawsuits against me and my magazine is to force us to reach a settlement, or to otherwise lead to our economic obliteration. It is rare for a journalist to challenge a coordinated and corrupt system, which also holds influence over specific individuals within the legal system, who then hold the power to issue specific sentences and decisions upon request.

Meanwhile, freedom of the press is rapidly being transformed into an altar upon which everyone pretends to worship, but which contains many skeletons within.

Unfortunately, the same is true of justice in Greece as well, resulting in a system where even honest justices often operate in fear of displeasing a government minister or major business figure, who has the power to file charges against them and destroy them.

When former defense minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos was arrested, his personal effects included notes on coordinated actions he would undertake with business figures, in order to destroy prosecutors who were continuing investigations against him. The justice system, in turn, did not have the courage to further examine this and to investigate those who plotting to kill their fellow prosecutors, instead allowing these crucial pieces of evidence to get “lost” in the mountains of paperwork relating to this case.

In this most blatant of manners, judges and prosecutors who depart from the judicial branch in Greece later become legal consultants to the same business figures which, until recently, they held a responsibility to investigate and prosecute. And this convoluted web of corruption and injustice is veiled behind a legal system which issues harsh punishments for charges such as that of libel. This legal system arrests and prosecutes “slanderers”, but, God forbid, never any major fraudsters or corrupt politicians. The very concept of an independent judiciary is devalued on a daily basis in Greece, in the eyes of justice and common sense. If one asks judicial professionals to tell you about justice, they can refer you to a whole range of laws, but to far fewer instances of true justice being served or public figures having been imprisoned.

Πηγή: Greek News
27 Feb 2014

Athens District Attorney’s has indicted 6 people, including a member of the Greek Secret Service (EYP) and two who allegedly were collaborating with the National Intelligence Service (ΕΥP), for creating a group in order to assassinate journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, publisher of HOT DOC magazine

On the 9th September 2012, a few days before the journalist published the Lagarde List, 5 people ambushed him inside his house. Kostas Vaxevanis became aware of their presence and called the police. After a thorough investigation, done mostly by the editorial team of HOT DOC, the police was led to the 6 people mentioned above, who had organized not only this particular operation, but many others as well.

The journalist had claimed from the first moment that this was a group hired by the bankers against whom disclosures have been made. The same group used anonymous blogs to slander journalists Stephen Grey (Reuters) and Thomas Landon Jr. (New York Times), who both had published stories regarding scandals and corruption inside the Greek banking system.

In October 2012, Vaxevanis’ news magazine, Hot Doc, published a list of 2,059 Greek residents with accounts at the Geneva branch of HSBC. He said that he had verified the authenticity of the list, which was delivered anonymously to the magazine on a flash drive, by calling up a tenth of the people on it and asking them to confirm that they had an account with HSBC. He said they have also verified the balance of their accounts as those appeared on a particular date on the list. Hot Doc published only names of the account holders and their stated profession. It did not disclose the amount of money they were holding in the bank.

Public prosecutor brought Vaxevanis into trial and he was acquitted. The prosecutor’s office appealed the decision. At his retrial in December an Athens court has acquitted again Kostas Vaxevanis on charges of breaking privacy laws by publishing the “Lagarde List”.

In his defence, the accused had told the court that he had published the list in order “to expose the system of corruption that is oppressing the country and which is on that list”.

Πηγή: The Irate Greek
18 April 2013

The following is a summary of pages 14-41 of the 26th issue of the magazine HotDoc, whose editor is journalist Kostas Vaxevanis.

The 3rd issue of the magazine HotDoc, dated 24 May 2012, revealed sensitive information about scandals involving Greek banks. Advance copies had been sent to other news outlets. On 23 May, Fimotro, a blog often denounced for engaging in defamation and blackmail, published a picture of a receipt allegedly issued by the Greek Intelligence Service (EYP) in the name of HotDoc’s editor, Kostas Vaxevanis. The receipt was dated 15 June 2011 and said he was paid €50,000 for services to EYP for the 1st semester of 2011. Fimotro, as well as other blogs which circulated this picture of the receipt, also played a role in portraying Reuters’ Steven Grey, who was researching a similar story on Greek banks, as an “agent” of unknown forces who sought to ruin the Greek economy (Reuters published at the time a long pieceon the surveillance Grey was subjected to).

The HotDoc team denounced the receipt as a forgery and Vaxevanis tried to sue Giannis Papagiannis, the administrator of Fimotro, whose name is known to the public following a previous court case in which he was accused of blackmail. Strangely, the prosecutor office refused the documents of the previous case file as proof of his identity, and, because Papagiannis could not be charged with a felony in the HotDoc case, Google refused to provide his personal data. The case against Papagiannis was thus dropped, despite abundant online evidence of his identity, including, recently, blog posts signed with his full name.

Then the HotDoc team started receiving barely veiled threats through friends and acquaintances, while living under the constant impression that they were being followed. The magazine however continued to conduct research on banks. In July 2012, it published a first set of findings showing that a team of EYP perjurers, who had been exposed for illegal activities by the HotDoc journalists in the past, was trying to eliminate them in collaboration with big businessmen and bankers.

On 8 September, Vaxevanis was returning home late at night in a friend’s car when they noticed two vehicles parked strangely in the street with their headlights on. He avoided the cars and entered his house through the back door, unnoticed. Early the next morning, on 9 September, he heard his dog bark. He got up and saw in the garden a man hiding behind the gate, as if waiting for him to come home. He called the police, whose arrival in the street scared the presumed assailants away – it turned out that there were at least 4 of them – but they managed to escape, as the operations centre had given the patrol car a wrong house number. When State Security agents came later during the day to take Vaxevanis’s deposition, the commanding officer dismissed the whole case as a botched burglary attempt. Vaxevanis reported to the police observations made by himself and by neighbours about people loitering in the neighbourhood, but was never asked to give the witnesses’ names. Neither was he offered police protection, which many prominent journalists enjoy in Greece. The media also ignored the issue, while some people in media circles started whispering that Vaxevanis was merely an attention whore.

On 17 September, a woman named Maria contacted HotDoc and asked to meet Vaxevanis, saying that it was a matter of life and death and that “his life is at risk, it’s the bankers”. She claimed that guns-for-hire from FYROM had been contracted by a banker and ordered to kill Vaxevanis, that she herself had forged the EYP receipt in his name, that the same gang was contracted to defame journalist Tasos Telloglou, who was also publishing reports critical of the same banker, and, most importantly, that they were to break into the offices of Reuters journalist to steal evidence of a serious bank scandal. HotDoc knew that such a break-in had already happened on 30 May in the offices of Reuters’ Nikos Leontopoulos, but the event had never been made public. For Maria to know this, she must have been involved somehow, and HotDoc decided that Maria’s “confession” was worth investigating.

Maria revealed that she had been hired by a company run by a number of individuals employed by EYP. She was asked as part of her duties to prepare forged receipts in the name of Vaxevanis, other journalists and a politician from Independent Greeks, all in the name of the “national interest”. The targets had in common that they were investigating scandals involving the banker who hired the company or the illegal activities of the company owner himself. The receipts were then sent not only to “friendly” newspapers and to a publishing company in greater Athens, but also to the offices of New Democracy, where a party official showed the Vaxevanis receipt to a foreign journalist who was interviewing him about the Lagarde list and Vaxevanis’s arrest.

After defamation-by-receipt failed, the EYP gang, according to Maria, launched three parallel operations. The first aimed at defaming Tasos Telloglou, the second at eliminating – physically – Vaxevanis, and the third at discrediting the key witness in a lawsuit against the same banker who was targeting Vaxevanis, by planting drugs in her restaurants and framing her for drug trafficking. After the ambush at Vaxevanis’s house on 9 September, Maria had understood what the “contract” she heard mentioned in conversations was about and freaked out, realizing that, after Vaxevanis was killed, she would likely be next. She tried to pull out under various pretexts, but, since that was not possible, she chose to meet with Vaxevanis and tell him the whole truth. The HotDoc team asked her to keep her position in the EYP gang so that they could conduct their investigation safely.

From there on, Vaxevanis first met with a notary to give a statement about the whole story, in a document that was to be unsealed and published only in case of his death or with his explicit order. He then informed Tasos Telloglou that he was being targeted too. Then, the HotDoc team took handwritten notes handed over by Maria to an expert graphologist, Ioannis Makris, who was formerly the deputy head of the Hellenic Police Directorate for Criminal Investigations. Makris was able to determine that the author of the handwritten notes was most likely the same person as the one who had forged the EYP receipt. In December 2012, Makris met with Maria at the HotDoc offices to take handwriting samples from her. After examining the samples in detail, Makris concluded beyond any doubt that Maria was the author of the receipt, while the signature on the receipt was obviously not that of Vaxevanis.

The HotDoc team was further able to confirm Maria’s statements by visiting the premises used by the EYP gang to monitor the magazine, where they found hidden crypts behind ventilation shafts as she had described. Meanwhile, Maria played her role and was pretending to run the operation targeting the witness in the court case against the banker. She gave documents and surveillance photographs about this operation to the HotDoc team, which was able once again to cross-check the information. Having collected sufficient evidence that Maria’s story was well-founded, the HotDoc team took their case to the judiciary. HotDoc was also provided a CD with recorded phone conversations between members of the gang, in which they discuss details of their operations and name the banker behind the story (for safety reasons, the CD has been given for safekeeping to colleagues abroad.)

In early December 2012, HotDoc was contacted by one, then two, other members of the gang, in what seems to have been an attempt at laying the blame for the whole operation on the rest of its members. After two meetings, HotDoc chose not pursue the contact any further.

The magazine also notes that verbal attacks against Vaxevanis have been scaled up in political circles, quoting the minutes of a session of the parliamentary investigation committee on the Lagarde list, in which PASOK’s leader Evangelos Venizelos, instead of discussing his own role in matter, insinuates that a rival banker is secretly funding HotDoc and that “the Service” (hinting at EYP) should be able to prove it.

The 26th issue of HotDoc includes a thorough article on the above, as well as a long interview with Maria in which she narrates the story in detail, a list of the individuals involved in the EYP gang (initials only) and extensive documentation, including photographs, from the magazine’s investigation file.

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