Police officers stand at a court, in Athens, Greece, on October 22, 2020. Greek authorities recently summoned journalists Kostas Vaxevanis and Ioanna Papadakou over their reporting. (Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Greek journalists summoned over criminal investigation into corruption reporting

Berlin, January 26, 2022 – Greek authorities should drop their investigations into journalists Kostas Vaxevanis and Ioanna Papadakou and ensure that members of the press do not face criminal charges over their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

Prosecutors with the Special High Court in Athens recently summoned Vaxevanis, publisher and reporter with the Documento newspaper, and Papadakou, a former journalist who worked as a reporter for the To Vima newspaper and as a host at the Alpha TV broadcaster, according to multiple media reports and both journalists, who communicated with CPJ via email.

Authorities accuse the journalists of multiple criminal offences relating to their reporting on government officials who allegedly took bribes from the Swiss drugmaker Novartis, as well as other corruption allegations, according to those sources.

Vaxevanis and Papadakou told CPJ that they denied the allegations and said they were facing political retaliation for their work.

“Greek authorities should drop their investigations into journalists Kostas Vaxevanis and Ioanna Papadakou, and ensure that members of the press do not face legal harassment for years-old investigations into government corruption,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should stop pursuing journalists simply for doing their jobs, and should encourage investigative reporters who expose corruption.”

The prosecution accuses both journalists of membership in a criminal organization and three counts of conspiracy—to expose innocent people to prosecution, to extort, and to breach duty—which could carry up to five years in prison each if charged and convicted, for a total of 20 years, according to Papadakou and Vaxevanis.

The allegations against Vaxevanis stem from Documento’s 2018 to 2020 investigations into government officials who allegedly took bribes from Novartis, according to the journalist, those news reports, and CPJ’s review of that reporting

Vaxevanis told CPJ that he appeared at the court on January 19 in response to the summons, where he was given a case file of tens of thousands of pages, and is required to return to court on February 18 for his full testimony, after which he may be formally charged.

Papadakou, who lives in Brussels, said the allegations against her relate to her coverage of the Novartis case when she worked as a journalist, as well as her coverage of the 2013 leak of a list of wealthy Greeks who used Swiss bank accounts to allegedly avoid paying taxes.

She told CPJ that she was summoned to appear on January 25, but that date was postponed due to snow in Athens and a new date had not been set. She said she requested the investigation against her be annulled, and said she stands by her reporting.

In an editorial in Documento, Vaxevanis said that the investigations represent an “unprecedented criminalization of journalism.” He accused the conservative New Democracy party, which took power in 2019, of pursuing the investigations with political motives.

CPJ emailed the prosecutor’s office at the Special High Court in Athens, the press department of Novartis in Greece, and the New Democracy party for comment but did not immediately receive any replies.