NEWS

Kathimerini appeals for Supreme Court reversal

Kathimerini SA, which publishes the Kathimerini newspaper, said yesterday it would appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision, which, in turn, had quashed a lower court’s rejection of a libel suit by Socrates Kokkalis, owner of the Intracom group of companies. The Piraeus Appeals Court decision 863/03, published yesterday, awarded Kokkalis damages of 315,000 euros, out of the 6.6 million that the plaintiff had demanded. This overturned a decision by a lower court (4100/2002) last year which ruled unanimously that Kathimerini was right in pursuing its investigations into Kokkalis’s activities. The three-judge appeals court ruled by two votes to one, with presiding judge I. Katsambanis and another judge voting against rapporteur Giorgos Krimbas’s proposal that the appeal by Kokkalis and Intracom should be rejected as the lower court decision was right, Kathimerini said in an announcement. «Kathimerini believes the position of the court’s majority is clearly wrong and is appealing to the Supreme Court, seeking the reversal of the decision,» the announcement said. It explained the paper’s position on its reports of allegations regarding Kokkalis’s cooperation with the defunct East German secret police, the Stasi, and Russian claims of fraud by a Kokkalis company in setting up a Lotto lottery game in Russia. «The lower court decision notes the evidence which was published in the Greek and foreign press, refers to the report by the German Parliament and notes prosecutor D. Papangelopoulos’s filing of criminal charges against Kokkalis for a number of serious crimes, justifying Kathimerini. Specifically, the lower court ruling accepts that ‘from documents, it is clear the Greek businessman Socrates Kokkalis was used as an informant (by the Stasi) at least from the start of 1986 to early 1987, under the pseudonym of Krokus.’» But, Kathimerini noted, the appeals court decision was based only on part of the German parliamentary report. It found that «the information published was baseless and did not permit (Kathimerini) to present (Kokkalis) as a Stasi agent. The appeals court majority, for unknown reasons, hides the fact that charges of spying are still pending against S. Kokkalis and that the report by a German parliamentary committee begins with the assertion: ‘In January 1963, Socrates Kokkalis was hired as an informant by the Ministry of State Security under the pseudonym Rocco.’» Regarding the Russian Lotto case, Kathimerini noted that though the lower court had taken into account the fact that a suit by Russia’s National Sports Federation (NFS) accusing Kokkalis of fraud, and so on, was outstanding, the appeals court’s majority found Kokkalis «does not have unfinished business with the Russian Lotto.» The court appears to ignore the fact that over this «non-existent issue,» Kokkalis has asked an Athens magistrate’s court to intervene against the suit filed by the NFS. Kathimerini also notes that the issue is one of press freedom and that it should concern journalists’ unions. The lower court’s decision had argued: «The defendants (Kathimerini’s journalists) cannot be indifferent observers of events. Such a stance would cast doubt on the reputation and credibility of the newspaper Kathimerini and the defendants themselves with regard to the transparent, credible, continuous and objective informing of public opinion. And so, the… aforementioned true circumstances, as well as conclusions and comments, were not fantasies or forgeries by the defendants with the aim of libeling the plaintiffs.» The court added that press freedom was guaranteed by the Constitution and the exertion of this by the defendants «is not excessive, as the plaintiffs groundlessly claim.» This neither harmed Intracom’s reputation nor Kokkalis’s personal standing, «it is legal and does not warrant monetary damages due to mental harm,» the lower court said. «On the contrary,» Kathimerini noted, «the appeals court majority wholly abrogates journalists’ right to investigate and criticize, limiting itself to unprecedented opinions such as ‘the defendants did not have the right to publish these reports since they knew they were referring to the top business and top businessman for 2001!»