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Politics

Greece’s Ex-High Court Chief Named in Blackmail Audio File

February 24, 2022

ATHENS – Greece’s former Supreme Court President Vassiliki Thanou was named in an audio file in which a businesswoman is heard apparently trying to blackmail a former bank chief, seeking bribes for Thanou.

Thanou –  who went on to serve the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA –  denounced it, but the report on the site iefimerida.gr led the high court prosecutor to look again at a 2016 case in which she said an investigation was set aside.

She also said she may sue the site for slander as the incident set off a firestorm in political circles because it involves so many prominent names, including the target of the apparent blackmail, the late businessman Andreas Vgenopoulos, who headed the former Marfin Bank.

The audio file is a recorded conversation between Vgenopoulos and businesswoman Dimitra Maratou, who said she was acting on behalf of Thanou and seems to be asking for money, using the terms “books” and “libraries” instead.

That came when Vgenopoulos, who was criticized for his bank requiring employees to show up on the day of 2010 massive anti-austerity protests that saw one of the branches in Athens firebombed and three workers killed, was also caught up in court cases.

Thanou also served briefly as an interim prime minister in 2015 after becoming a legal advisor to then-Premier and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, when she stepped down from the high court.

The allegations arose more than six years after Vgenopoulos had publicly claimed in 2016 during a press conference that he was being blackmailed by agents of the SYRIZA government he didn’t name.

The file also suggests that Thanou was blackmailing him even before she became the high court leader, demanding money in return for stopping the extradition to Cyprus of two of his associates. He died in November, 2016.

Maratou is heard telling Vgenopoulos he should send a book to Thanou as a gift, stuffed with money and when he asks how much can fit she says up to 50,000 euros ($56,016) would do.

She 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.

He decided to sue for extortion in May 2016 and gave testimony but none of the witnesses he said should be deposed and the case was shelved after only five days and he passed away six months later.

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 and became the caretaker premier in between elections, the first woman to head a Greek government.

She immediately set off provocations by pushing the government she was serving to increase the retirement age of judges to 70, which would require changing the Constitution.

She became the head of Tsipras’ legal office only 10 days after leaving the high court, an unusual move for a member of the judiciary to be aligned with a political party, the profession requiring neutrality.

He then named her head of the country’s Competition Commission shortly before he was defeated in July 7, 2019 snap elections by now-Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy Conservatives.

Mitsotakis removed her and she and three other members of the commission went to the country’s highest administrative court to try to reverse it but lost the case.

News of the audio file led New Democracy and the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) to talk about “dark networks” within the judiciary and with the Conservatives demanding an explanation from Tsipras.

The Leftists said the flap had nothing to do with them and that it was up to the courts to figure out what happened while Thanou said the tape was a “diversion” and said she had only a casual relationship with Maratou.

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