Greek Paper Accuses PM Office of Harassment via Tax Audits

Published: 13 December 2023

Kostas Vaxevanis

Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested on October 28, 2012, after publishing the “Lagarde list.” (Photo: Documento-Eurokinisi)

By OCCRP

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) expressed dismay over reports indicating that Greek tax authorities have imposed an "exorbitant" fine on the weekly newspaper Documento News. The paper alleges that the tax audit was fabricated and accuses Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis of being behind the harassment.

This huge fine is perceived as part of a years-long government campaign to suppress press freedom in Greece.

“The imposition of an exorbitant 435,000 euro fine following a lengthy tax audit is deeply concerning,” stated the ECPMF in a release. “We will monitor this situation as it unfolds.”

Documento reported in recent days that the tax audit was initiated by an anonymous letter sent to the country's tax authorities and was conducted at the behest of and in coordination with the office of Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis, the leader of the ruling party Nea Democratia.

A letter of similar content was sent to the tax authorities in 2019, but tax officials dismissed it as baseless. It contained allegations of financial wrongdoing.

However, the second letter, sent in 2021, prompted an investigation that resulted in the substantial fine, according to Documento. On Saturday, the paper further claimed that a senior tax officer in charge of investigating Documento was reporting directly to the Prime Minister’s office.

In recent years, various international media freedom and human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the state of press freedom in Greece. These concerns were heightened by reports of the government's involvement in a massive "politically motivated" spyware attack against journalists, prompting intervention by the EU Parliament.

The Greek judiciary also failed to investigate the 2021 assassination of reporter Georgios Karaivaz. In 2022, a last-minute recommendation from the country’s Supreme Court averted a trial of five journalists, including Documento editor Kostas Vaxevanis. The Nea Democratia majority had decided to put Vaxevanis and the other four media workers on trial after they reported about bribes paid by Swiss pharma giant Novartis to Greek politicians and doctors.

In January last year, Prime Minister Mitsotakis described Vaxevanis and the other four journalists in a parliament speech as members of the “underworld.”

Vaxevanis reportedly became the target of an assassination plan, allegedly masterminded by a TV presenter with links to the ruling party, who is now awaiting trial.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Documento, which exposed past wrongdoings of Mitsotakis and his political allies, was excluded from public campaigns. A headline from March 28, 2020, read, “You are a Documento reader? Then you should die!”, referring to the newspaper’s exclusion from the government’s paid coronavirus advertisement campaign.

“They tried several times to gag the newspaper,” said Vaxevanis. “The culmination of Putin-practices is the attempt to punitively fine the newspaper with fabricated tax audits.”

In 2012, during the peak of Greece’s debt crisis, Vaxevanis was arrested after publishing the so-called Lagarde List, named after then French finance minister and now ECB chairwoman Christine Lagarde who had passed it in 2010 to her Greek colleague to help him go after tax dodgers. It contained about 2,000 accounts at HSBC Switzerland of prominent Greeks, among them politicians and businesspeople.

In 2023, Reporters Without Borders ranked Greece 107th in its Press Freedom Index worldwide, trailing Senegal, Qatar, and Thailand, which is the lowest among all European Union members.