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Cyprus

Victory for journalists in Vgenopoulos case

Laiki Bank’s former strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos

A Greek court on Monday acquitted two reporters in a slander suit filed by former Laiki bank strongman Andreas Vgenopoulos over publication of his activity in the ill-fated lender.

According to reports, Costas Vaxevanis and Yiannis Symeonides were acquitted by the three-member misdemeanour court in Athens of a suit filed by Vgenopoulos in response to a publication suggesting he used the bank to lend money to friends and businesses connected with him, and his involvement with the Vatopedi monastery.

Marfin Popular Bank, as it was known at the time, was a major lender to the Vatopedi monastery, which received swathes of prime state-owned land across Greece in return for less valuable land that it owned.

Monks at the Vatopedi, in turn, bought shares in Marfin Investment Group (MIG), owned by Vgenopoulos. That year MIG lost €1.8bn, the biggest ever for a Greek company to that point.

“It is a victory for journalism and truth, but also it restores the prestige and operation of justice,” Costas Vaxevanis said afterwards. “With his power and connections, Mr Vgenopoulos tried, not only to muzzle journalistic investigation, but also to trample on us, but he eventually succeeded in pointing to the location where the truth was buried.”

Vaxevanis suggested that the court decision was the beginning of Vgenopoulos’ “adventure” with Greek and Cypriot justice.

In Cyprus, Vgenopoulos is widely held responsible for the collapse of the banking system.

A court case has been filed against the Greek financier along with former Central Bank of Cyprus governor Christodoulos Christodoulou and five other individuals and three companies, over the payment of €1 million, allegedly as a bribe, in 2007.

Prosecutors suggest that Focus, the company which made the payment, acted as a front for Vgenopoulos, who bribed Christodoulou – in his capacity as central bank chief at the time – to look the other way while the former irregularly acquired a controlling stake in Laiki Bank in 2006.

Focus, owned by Greek ship-owner Michalis Zolotas, reportedly received hundreds of millions in loans from Laiki during Vgenopoulos’ reign at the lender.

The case, the first to implicate Vgenopoulos in Cyprus despite him being considered one of the key figures in the build-up to the banking collapse of Cyprus in March 2013, poses the issue of Vgenopoulos’ doubtful readiness to appear before court.

He maintains that this case is the jurisdiction of Greek authorities. Two of his close associates, Efthimios Bouloutas and Marcos Foros, have refused to travel to Cyprus when they found themselves in a similar predicament and remain fugitives even after Greek courts ordered their extradition to Cyprus.

 

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