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

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.

20 Apr 2015
BY KOSTAS VAXEVANIS
Greek journalist Kostas

Kostas Vaxevanis won the 2013 Index on Censorship Journalism award for his investigative journalism through his work on the magazine Hot Doc. On 30 March 2015 he was convicted of criminal defamation for his reporting on banking irregularities in Greece and given a 26 month suspended sentence.

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.

This column was posted on April 20 2015 at indexoncensorship.org

One response to “Kostas Vaxevanis: Greek justice and freedom of the press exist in name only”

  1. EU might deteriorate to the miserable level of extremely corrupt Greece. Your government is your #1 enemy. Brutal police and kangaroo courts are tools to enslave you to your government. But badges and benches do not grant extra rights. It’s your duty as a citizen to become a popopaparazzo, recording misconduct of police, prosecutors, and politicians. Use your smartphone to unmask cops and kleptocrats.

    The political philosopher Edmund Burke once remarked that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good folks to do nothing. A glaring example is my persecution by the government of Greece, which grossly violates my civil rights.

    Martin Niemöller said: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me!

    EU practices double standards on civil rights. It’s freakish for EU to interfere in the civil rights of foreigners, but condone the abuse of my civil rights, a citizen of EU! EU should get its own house in order before lecturing others. EU should rein in barbaric Greece, the most corrupt country of Europe with prisoners of conscience, testilying police, malevolent prosecutors, perjurers, and stupidest jurists. Basil Venitis, [email protected], http://venitism.blogspot.com

    Greece is an uncivil nation with kangaroo justice, overcriminalization, brutal police, huge political corruption, persecution of dissident bloggers, huge bureaucracy, huge taxation, and 23% VAT. Freakish Graecokleptocrats use the kangaroo justice as a political tool to gag political opponents. The cybercrimes unit (CCU) of the Greek police is the most disgusting cybercriminal organization, stealing computers, jailing bloggers, and spreading huge lies to the media.

    Every year, Graecokleptocrats receive myriad bribes and kickbacks. Many trains bought from Germany do not fit the rails, but they were bought just to generate bribes! In 2009, investigators of the Munich Prosecution Department uncovered a corruption affair, in which MAN has given huge bribes to Greek politicians to get large orders for overpriced trolleys. A streetcar named desire! These trolleys with huge markups are named bribes! But Greek prosecutors have started investigating this scandal just in September of 2012! One of those investigated is Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, the minister who destroyed my life. Xenogiannakopoulou also served as general secretary of Pasok, the most corrupt political party on Earth!

    I accuse the government of Greece for:

    • Persecuting me for more than four years

    • Stealing my life

    • Stealing my computer and files

    • Spreading lies about me on all Greek media

    • Using the kangaroo justice as a political tool

    • Postponing my trial nine times

    • Locking me in jail without toilet and pillow for a night

    • Taking away my hypertension pills

    • Making me urinate in a bottle

    • Humiliating me with handcuffs, fingerprints, and mug shots

    On October 18, 2010, a gang of six brutal cops of the violent Greek CyberCrimes Unit (CCU), a real godzilla, supervised by a dishonest prosecutor, a pathologic liar, a disgusting rat, raided my home in Athens and stole my computer, software, files, documents, and personal data. The brutal policemen locked me in jail for a night, they humiliated me with handcuffs, fingerprints, mug shots, and lies, leaked false information to the media parrots, and the corrupt Greek government initiated sham court proceedings for a stack of freakish trumped-up defamation charges! There was neither pillow nor toilet facility in my jail cell. I had to urinate in a bottle! I, a seventy-years-old man with high blood pressure, was not allowed to keep my hypertension pills with me. There was neither toilet paper nor soap in the whole CCU jail.

    JAILBIRD FOR A NIGHT

    Big brother checks the internet
    For things you criticize
    To shut your mouth on the net
    To blow minds in the sky.

    Cops busted my home
    And stole my computer
    Hard disk on their comb
    blogger to the shooter.

    They threw me in jail
    For speaking my mind
    My words are out of jail
    Revolting as a kind.

    This jail is awful
    Without pillow alone
    Urinating in a bottle
    And the girl next cell begins to moan.

    Screaming in the dark of jail
    Guards pretending they are deaf
    She is a girl, she is frail
    She is missing her Jeff.

    I can smile at the old days
    I was a handsome then
    Those were real happy days
    Happy memory lives again.

    Lesmiserables in jail
    Kleptocrats out of jail
    This is hell on Earth
    It’s shame and pain.

    Time for a real revolt
    To bring a real change
    To bring the looting to a halt
    Kleptocrats should not escape.

    Kleptocrats must be laughing
    Premier must be happy
    This is stupid and disgusting
    Government has a party.

    Harmglads sleeping before dawn
    Silence cut with a cry
    Jailbird could be reborn
    Coming back to a happy life.

    My memory leads me
    Finding strength within
    People really love me
    A new life should begin.

    Waiting for the sunrise
    Thinking of a new life
    I mustn’t give in
    A new day will begin.

    It’s been five years since the government of Greece stole my life, my computer, and my files. I have done absolutely nothing, and I am being persecuted by the Greek government without any real reason. My ordeal is against all rules of civil society and treaties that Greece has signed. Greece, a corrupt country without a functioning justice system, has gone bananas. Graecokleptocrats use the kangaroo justice as a political tool to gag political opponents. Graecokleptocrats think the laws exist to give them whatever they want! This is psoriasis of democracy, pure and simple.

    Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, sued me, and she wouldn’t show up in court! As a result, my trial has been postponed nine times so far. Xenogiannakopoulou, [email protected] or [email protected], continues to destroy my life without reason whatsoever. I could understand her vengeance, if I did something wrong. But I did absolutely nothing, and vindictive Xenogiannakopoulou barks at the wrong tree. If this is not kangaroo justice, what is it? Has a harmglad sadist minister the right to destroy an innocent citizen in cold blood? For God’s sake what kind of harmjoy is this tragedy anyhow? Basil Venitis, [email protected], http://venitism.blogspot.com

    Please email appeals to

    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

    • Calling for the immediate stop of the persecution of Basil Venitis.

    • Stating that you believe these trumped-up defamation charges to be politically motivated and intended to prevent him exercising his right to freedom of expression against political corruption.

    • Seeking assurances that the civil rights of Basil Venitis will always be respected.