Financial Times' latest Greece-themed article, entitled "Minister’s court win intensifies fears for rule of law in Greece," which points to allegations of judicial interference and "thin-skinned" leftist ministers, generated a heated response in Athens by the foreign ministry on Monday and even political fallout.
According to the FT article - written by the doyen of foreign correspondents permanently based in Greece, Kerin Hope - a high court decision to convict the publishers of a book review magazine of defamation for printing a highly critical letter against current Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias now threatens to put the publication out of business. The latter's bank account was subsequently frozen in order to guarantee payment of a monetary award towards Kotzias.
According to FT, "... Fears for the independence of the Greek judicial system are mounting after the foreign minister won a court order freezing the bank accounts of a leading magazine over a reader’s letter describing him as a former 'fanatical' Stalinist.
"The ruling in favour of Nikos Kotzias has drawn sharp criticism from academics and public figures, who say it violates EU law on freedom of expression. It also highlights broader concern over perceived interference in the justice system by the leftwing Syriza government.
"The concerns widened beyond Greece last week when senior eurozone officials warned the government that the continued prosecution of Andreas Georgiou, its former statistics chief, over claims he inflated the size of the country’s budget deficit in 2009, threatened to drive a wedge between Athens and its euro area creditors. The affair comes as Brussels is already locked in stand-offs with Poland and Hungary over the rule of law that have raised questions over the EU’s ability to enforce the democratic standards at the core of the European project."
FT, via the dispatch by its Athens correspondent, reminds that the Kotzias case stems from a published reader’s letter in the Athens Review of Books in 2010. In the letter, today's foreign minister in the leftist-rightist coalition government is described as having once been “the most extreme, fanatical, cruel and relentless communist of our generation, a true gauleiter of Stalinism”.
Following appeals, Greece's supreme court finally awarded Kotzias 22,000 euros in damages for the 2010 publication.
In sharply-worded language, the foreign ministry issued an announcement charging that the FT article "spreads unprecedented lies, (ones) aimed at discrediting the Greek government" and says the international media outlet "lied" about the fact that Kotzias' side did not comment on the allegations.
The foreign ministry's reply, in defense of its minister, also states that the paper failed to corroborate the charges made against Kotzias and ignores repeated rulings by the Balkan country's court system.
"... Ms Hope received a relevant letter from Mr. Kotzias' attorney, Ioannis Matzouranis. The false statement that Mr. Kotzias 'declined to comment' violates every rule of journalistic ethics," the announcement read.
At the same time, the ministry released a letter by Kotzias' attorney sent to FT, as part of a reaction for the article.
Finally, the official ministry response says Kotzias asked for a public apology from the pair of publishers convicted of defamation - the Vassilakis couple - something that the latter refused.
In a later reaction, main opposition New Democracy (ND) party called on Kotzias to "think twice when taking steps that embarrass him and Greece on the international state..."
"Speculation over Mr. Kotzias' actions - as in the case of Mr. Vassilakis' Athens Review of Books – surpasses Greece's borders."