Leaks relating to police investigations are being treated as a matter of corruption that affects the outcome of the case and possibly a trial, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou told MPs on Wednesday.
“It is not a matter of revealing omissions but one of the issues we are treating as corruption that certainly affects the investigation and possibly dispensation of justice despite our courts’ decisions that they are not influenced by publications,” Nicolaou said after briefing the House ethics committee about a number of bills aiming at stamping out police corruption.
“A leak, either selective or whole, can affect the investigation, especially on matters of surprise and capability of investigating a case effectively,” he said.
The minister said those who leaked information were “unfortunately” members of the crime-fighting authorities.
From the first day on the job, he said, he tried to track down the sources of various leaks and prosecute the guilty parties.
“But, because these leaks are mainly to the mass media, which are covered by the journalists’ capacity not to reveal their sources, or the underworld, that is governed by its own rule of silence, these kinds of cases are not easy to investigate,” Nicolaou said.
In the cases where the authorities have confirmation as to who leaked the information but do not have enough proof to prosecute, those individuals are transferred elsewhere in a bid to protect the investigation.
To tackle corruption, in 2009 the force set up the professional standards directory, which failed to produce satisfactory results.
The state is trying anew to stamp out corruption by drafting a series of bills, including one that provides for the creation of an internal affairs service that will be tasked with investigating such matters. The service will report directly to the chief of police and supervised by the attorney-general.
“Our effort, with these measures, is to be able to tackle, or at least effectively investigate all these phenomena, which have been plaguing the work and role of the police through time,” the minister said.
The package of measures includes criminalisation of covering up, or not disclosing, or obstructing disclosure of information, or a matter relating to corruption. There are also provisions allowing the authorities to monitor private communications.
Nicolaou said these would afford authorities, especially the internal affairs service, to fully investigate cases of corruption.
“People must be brought before the courts for punishment and to be made an example.”
The service will also be able to scrutinise bank accounts in connection with corruption – something that cannot be done currently – ask the tax authorities, and any other government department, for information about the person under investigation.
Green Party chairman Giorgos Perdikis said the authorities had toyed with the idea of going after journalists who published sensitive material.
“The thought … went through their mind and they have looked into it,” he added. “Instead of looking after their house they blame the one who carries the information.”
Perdikis conceded that there were times when “dark interests” were hiding behind a leak, but “one cannot tar everyone with the same brush and consider leaking information, or publication by the informant, or the media, involved deceit and corruption.”