Global Freedom of Expression

Español العربية

The Case of Kostas Vaxevanis (2013)

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    November 27, 2013
  • Outcome
    Acquittal
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Greece, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law
  • Themes
    Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags
    Public Interest

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In 2012, Kostas Vaxevanis, an investigative journalist published a report in his magazine called Hot Doc. The controversial report listed the names of more than 2,000 Greeks believed to be holding secret accounts at a bank in Switzerland with the possibility of committing tax evasion. Immediately thereafter, police arrested Vaxevanis on misdemeanor charges of violating Greek’s privacy laws. Hours later, he was released from Athens police headquarters, pending his trial.

In November 2012, a court of first instance acquitted Vaxevanis. Subsequently, in November 2013, upon a demand for his retrial, a court of appeal acquitted Vaxevanis of all charges, declaring that he did not infringe privacy laws by disclosing the personal data of the named individuals in the list.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.

 


Facts

On October 30, 2012, Kostas Vaxevanis, the founder and editor of Hot Doc magazine was arrested and charged with violating Greek’s privacy laws after publishing the names of more than 2,000 Greeks believed to be holding secret accounts at a bank in Switzerland with the possibility of committing tax evasion. [1] The list included a former culture minister, several employees of the Finance Ministry, and a number of Greek business leaders. [2]

Greek authorities had previously failed to act upon the information contained in the list, which had been allegedly handed over by former French Finance Minister and current IMF chief, Christine Lagarde. [3] In light of the difficult socio-economic situation facing Greece and the ambivalent attitude of its political elite, Vaxevanis published the list to bring greater awareness of these issues to the public.

The public prosecutor argued that the publication of the list was a violation of Greek’s privacy laws, particularly under Law 2472/1997, which imposes obligations on the protection of individuals against unauthorized processing of personal data. The prosecutor contended that individuals included in the list had did not consent to the disclosure of their names and respective bank information. According to him, the legal approach would be different if Vaxevanis had published only the name of persons who held a public office or were connected with such capacity as intermediaries. He said that the publication of the list did not actually benefit the public because it was already in the possession of prosecutors 15 days before the publication of the magazine.

On November 01, 2012, a court of first instance acquitted Vaxevanis of all charges as the presiding Judge Malia found him innocent. [4] Subsequently, a public prosecutor demanded his retrial for revealing and defaming the identities of more than 2,000 Greeks. [5] 

[1] New York Times, Greek Editor Is Arrested After Publishing a List of Swiss Bank Accounts, (Oct. 28, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/world/europe/greek-editor-arrested-after-publishing-list-of-swiss-bank-accounts.html.

[2] New York Times, Greek Editor Is Arrested After Publishing a List of Swiss Bank Accounts, (Oct. 28, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/world/europe/greek-editor-arrested-after-publishing-list-of-swiss-bank-accounts.html.

[3] New York Times, Greek Editor Not Guilty in Publishing Names With Swiss Accounts, (Nov. 01, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/world/europe/greek-editor-not-guilty-in-publishing-names-with-swiss-accounts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[4] New York Times, Greek Editor Not Guilty in Publishing Names With Swiss Accounts, (Nov. 01, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/world/europe/greek-editor-not-guilty-in-publishing-names-with-swiss-accounts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[5] The Guardian, Greece Retries Journalist Who Leaked ‘Lagarde List’ of Suspected Tax Evaders, (Oct. 08, 2013), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/08/kostas-vaxevanis-greece-lagarde-list-tax-evaders.


Decision Overview

The court of appeal delivered a unanimous opinion.

In response to the public prosecutor’s retrial demand, Vaxevanis and his defense team emphasized that none of the individuals on the list had filed complaints for privacy violations and argued that public had a right not only to know about the list, but also to know why authorities had failed to investigate the information contained in it. Vaxevanis said “It is tragic that this should be happening when Greek authorities, from the courts to the police, have found it impossible to clamp down on tax avoidance and the extreme right Golden Dawn party, preferring to target journalists who reveal the truth instead.” [1]

The court of appeal again acquitted Vaxevanis, declaring that he did not infringe privacy laws by disclosing the personal data of the named individuals in the list. [2]

[1] The Guardian, Greece Retries Journalist Who Leaked ‘Lagarde List’ of Suspected Tax Evaders, (Oct. 08, 2013), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/08/kostas-vaxevanis-greece-lagarde-list-tax-evaders.

[2] The Guardian, Greek Court Acquits Editor Who Leaked ‘Lagarde List’ of Suspected Tax Evaders, (Nov. 27, 2013), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/27/greek-court-acquits-kostas-vaxevanis-leaked-lagarde-list-tax-evaders-privacy.

 


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback