NEWS

Taped extortion attempt ignites political storm

Taped extortion attempt ignites political storm

Political infighting has broken out over the emergence of an audiotape in which a businesswoman, claiming to be acting on behalf of then-Supreme Court President Vassiliki Thanou, is demanding money from the late businessman Andreas Vgenopoulos so that Thanou can help stop the extradition to Cyprus of two of his associates. 

In the tape, published by online news site, iefimerida.gr, the businesswoman, said to be a close friend of Thanou’s, suggests to Vgenopoulos that he sends a book to Thanou, as a gift, but with banknotes inside. When Vgenopoulos asks how much money can fit into a book, the businesswoman replies, up to €50,000. She further said that it would be Thanou’s son, a lawyer, who would get the book, or books – at one point it is suggested that a “library” be sent to Thanou – and that Thanou would receive all of the money, implying that the businesswoman would receive no cut.

In the end, Vgenopoulos decided to sue for extortion in May 2016; he was deposed in the case, but none of the witnesses he suggested and the case was filed away after only five days. A few months later, in November 2016, Vgenopoulos, 63, died of a heart attack.

Thanou had been appointed Supreme Court President in July 2015 by the then SYRIZA government and served until she reached the age limit of 67, in 2017. She also served as caretaker prime minister before the September 2015 election, the first woman to head a Greek government. She ignited a controversy by lobbying the government to increase the retirement age of judges to 70, despite the fact that the retirement age is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.

Ten days after her retirement from the high court, she was appointed head of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ legal office and, later, was appointed President of the Competition Commission, shortly before SYRIZA was defeated in the 2019 election. The new center-right government removed her; she and three other members challenged their removal at the country’s top administrative court, the Council of State, but lost the case.

New Democracy and the socialist Movement for Change spoke of “dark networks” within the judiciary; the ruling party demanded that Syriza explain itself, but the opposition countered that it had nothing to do with the case and that only the courts can deal with it. Thanou herself called the tape a “diversion” from the people’s real problems and claimed her acquaintance with the businesswoman was casual. She said she would consider gong to court herself.