Greece has ratified all major anti-bribery and anti-corruption international conventions:
The main anti-bribery and anti-corruption provisions of Greek legislation are to be found in the Greek Criminal Code (GCC) (Articles 159–159A and 235–238) as well as in the anti-money laundering legislation (Law 4557/2018).
Although not binding, the case law of the Greek Supreme Court (Areios Pagos) may be used as a means of interpreting the Greek criminal provisions. Moreover, several enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies have issued guidelines over the years in respect of anti-corruption regulation, best practices, signs of irregularity of transactions, etc. In addition to the guidelines issued by regulatory bodies (eg, the Bank of Greece, the Hellenic Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Capital Market Commission), business associations in sensitive industries (eg, healthcare) are proposing guidelines to their members, recommending best practices, evaluating market statistics, sharing experience from other jurisdictions, etc.
On 1 July 2019, a new criminal code and a new code of criminal procedure came into force in Greece. Both are the result of a decade of work by three law commissions with changing membership. The new criminal code’s aim is to modernise and rationalise the country’s core criminal legislation. In this context, it abolishes a number of obsolete or petty offences under the old code, which dated from 1950, and introduces some new offences to address better current challenges, such as the offence of dangerous driving or a broad subsidies fraud offence.
In respect to bribery, the new code establishes five offences. Notably, there are separate provisions on:
Sentences for the above offences vary, depending on the nature of the offences, the perpetrator’s capacity or the act for which the bribery occurred. The code takes a more severe approach towards passive bribery in the public sector, while active bribery is a more serious offence where the bribed person is a politician or a judge, as opposed to an ordinary public official. Moreover, bribery for illegal acts is punished more severely than bribery aimed at speeding up lawful actions (so-called "grease" payments).
On this basis, active bribery where the receiver of the bribe is a politician or a state officer or a judge or arbitrator is classified as a felony punishable with a custody sentence of up to ten years' imprisonment. If the receiver is an ordinary public employee, bribery for unlawful acts is a felony punishable by imprisonment of five to eight years, whereas bribery for lawful acts constitutes a serious misdemeanour punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a monetary sentence.
Trading in influence and bribery in the private sector are also classified as misdemeanours, with sentences of up to five years.
It should be noted that sentences longer than three years have to be served wholly or partly in prison. This is an important feature of the new code as opposed to the old one, where sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment were either suspended or converted into fines.
Overall, the new code provides more rational and proportional punishments and it is no less efficient than the old one, where both disproportionate and nominal sentences were frequent. The old law could see those convicted of bribery be put away for life in cases where the Greek state was the victim. That law was passed by parliament in turbulent times – months after the end of a civil war between communist-led rebels and the National Army and against the backdrop of a big contraband scandal (smuggling of gold, foreign currency and luxury items) involving coastguard officers, businessmen and diplomats, which had shaken the country. The law’s abolishment was long overdue as it was discordant with the hierarchy of values protected by modern criminal legislation and stood in sharp contrast to the fundamental principle of proportionality enshrined in Article 49(3) of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. Indeed, in a liberal legal order, life sentences must be reserved for the most heinous crimes such as murder, and not for financial offences.
It is worth noting that, under Greek law, whoever commits active bribery is also held responsible, as a rule, for money laundering. Indeed, according to established domestic case law, the act of giving bribes using the financial system is considered to be money laundering, not only for the receiver of the bribe, but also for the person who gives the bribe. In terms of punishment, this means that the perpetrator of active bribery would normally also be pursued for the felony offence of money laundering, for which potential sentences range from five to 15 years. Prosecution for money laundering is allowed even when the predicate offence (bribery or other) is time-barred. Moreover, in cases where the bribed public official proceeds with an illegal act in exchange for the bribe, the person who bribed them would also be, as a rule, held responsible for instigation of this act, which again would carry an additional serious sentence.
Bribery in the public sector, which is provided for by Articles 235 and 236 of the Greek Criminal Code (GCC), is an act of giving (or receiving) or promising (or accepting), directly or through third parties or intermediaries, undue benefits or gain to/from a public official for committing or omitting an act in the course of one’s duties or against one’s duties. The act of the public official may be concluded, or expected to be concluded, in the future. The perpetrator must act with intent (as opposed to with negligence). Active and passive bribery in the public sector are punishable with imprisonment ranging from ten days to 15 years depending on whether the act for which the bribe was given was in the course of, or against, the public official’s duties.
Bribery of judges
Bribery of judges is provided for by Article 237 of the GCC, which covers the offences of active and passive bribery of such persons. Bribery of judges is punishable with imprisonment ranging from five to 15 years. The perpetrator must act with intent (as opposed to with negligence). Company executives or any other person with decision-making or supervisory powers within the company, who fails through negligence to prevent active bribery of judicial officials, is punished with imprisonment ranging from ten days to five years.
Bribery of political officials
Bribery of political officials is provided for by Articles 159 and 159A of the GCC which stipulate the offences of active and passive bribery of political officials, such as the prime minister, ministers, heads of municipal regions (prefects and mayors) and other officials, including members of the European Parliament and the European Commission. These Articles cover the act of giving/receiving and promising/accepting unlawful benefits for committing or omitting an act as well as for abstaining from voting, or voting in a particular manner, or supporting a specific resolution. The perpetrator must act with intent (as opposed to with negligence). These offences are punishable with imprisonment ranging from between five to 15 years. Company executives, or any other person with decision-making or supervisory powers, who fails through negligence to prevent active political bribery, is punished with imprisonment of between ten days and five years.
Bribery of public officials
Article 13 of the GCC defines “public official” as a person entrusted permanently or temporarily with the exercise of duties directly related to the state or public law entities. However, Articles 159 paragraph 4, 159A paragraph 4, 235 paragraph 5 and 236 paragraph 4 of the GCC expand the above-mentioned definition and stipulate that public officials are also individuals who hold office permanently or temporarily under any capacity or status in:
Therefore, bribery of the above-mentioned foreign public officials is criminalised by the GCC. Moreover, Article 237B of the Greek Criminal Code stipulates that, for bribery offences, employees of state-owned or state-controlled companies or other entities are also considered to be public officials.
Bribery in the private sector
Bribery in the private sector, which is provided for by Article 396 of the GCC, is an act of giving (or receiving) unlawful benefits or gain, directly or indirectly, as an exchange for an action or omission contrary to one’s duties (as defined by law, contract, agreement, etc). The perpetrator must act with intent (as opposed to with negligence). This offence is punishable with imprisonment ranging from one to five years.
Bribery in sport
Bribery in sports is provided for by Article 132 paragraph 2 of Law 2725/1999 on “the professional and amateur sports”, which prohibits the act of requesting/receiving and giving/promising benefits to players, coaches or referees or to other third persons, in order to influence the outcome of a sport’s game. Such bribery is punishable with imprisonment of up to five years. In a case where the sport’s game was actually influenced, the offence is punishable by imprisonment of up to ten years.
Gains, benefits and gifts
Gains and benefits are not only cash/cash equivalents but also intangible benefits (eg, promotion or favourable transfer to a better position). The unlawfulness of such gains/benefits is judged on an ad hoc basis. However, a benefit may generally be considered unlawful if it goes beyond the standards of proper social and/or professional conduct. Facilitation payments are generally treated as bribes.
Despite the wording of the relevant law, which is broad and may include at first sight all of the above, anti-bribery legislation would not apply to symbolic gifts or gifts of courtesy. The difference lies primarily in the scope of the gift and the openness of offering such a gift. However, the application of regulations and laws on corruption to cases of systematic use of such gifts (eg, travel expenses, meals, entertainment) cannot be excluded in the general context of seeking to influence a public official.
Grease payments are prohibited. Such payments are not recognised under account and bookkeeping regulation as legitimate expenses. All payments and expenses must be duly registered and supported by relevant documentation (proper invoicing, contract agreements, etc). If not duly registered, such payments would be considered questionable or even fictitious, and potentially as direct or indirect payments for gifts or benefits through third parties. This type of payment is also in breach of the relevant tax provisions and may trigger (depending on the circumstances and value) criminal liability for related tax offences.
Article 237A (trading in influence) describes as punishable the act of requesting or receiving directly or indirectly through third persons, in favour of oneself or others, benefits of any nature or accepting a promise of such benefits in exchange for exerting improper influence over officials described in Articles 159A, 235 paragraph 1 and 237 paragraph 1 of the GCC, as well as members of parliamentary assemblies of international or transnational organisations of which Greece is a member.
Law 4174/2013 (tax code and tax standards) provides criminal penalties for false registrations in accounting books or for non-registration of transactions. There are also provisions in legislation for companies limited by shares (Law 4548/2018, which reformed company law) for criminal sanctions for inaccurate or false balance sheets, false or inaccurate declarations on the financial status of the company, etc. Moreover, Law 4443/2016 on Capital Markets provides for criminal sanctions in a case where someone knowingly disseminates misleading or false information through the media or the internet, which could affect the stock price of a listed company and, thus, manipulate the Greek stock market. These acts are punishable when committed with intent (as opposed to with negligence). Levels of intent may vary, depending on the applicable law.
Article 244 of the GCC stipulates that any public official who knowingly certifies or collects undue taxes, duties fees, taxation fees, judicial fees, or any other monetary obligations towards the Greek state, may be punished by imprisonment of up to three years.
Article 375 of the GCC stipulates that embezzlement is committed when the perpetrator, knowing that (due to a legal provision, eg, as manager, trustee, etc) they are in charge of the property of another person or entity, act as if they were the owner of the property by incorporating it into their own assets. This act of embezzlement is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. If the embezzled assets exceed the amount of EUR120,000, the offence is characterised as a felony and it is punishable with a sentence ranging from five to ten years' imprisonment. If the property belongs to the Greek state or to any public legal entity and the value of the embezzled assets exceeds EUR120,000, this constitutes an aggravating factor and the perpetrator of the offence shall be punished with a sentence ranging from ten to 15 years' imprisonment.
Article 259 of the GCC stipulates that the offence of breach of official duties is committed when a public official, who intentionally breaches their office duties, with the intent to benefit themselves or a third person unlawfully or to harm the Greek state or a third person unlawfully, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to two years, unless the offence committed is punishable in accordance with another more severe criminal provision.
The broad wording of Articles 235 and 236 of the GCC (passive and active bribery) covers gifts or financial benefits given in a direct or indirect way in favour of the perpetrator or others. In addition, both provisions make special reference to intermediaries to a bribe. In this respect, intermediaries or third parties may be held criminally liable if these transactions are carried out within the context of corruption. It is noted that payments through intermediaries may also be questionable in respect to proper bookkeeping and taxation law.
The general rules of limitation periods are set out in Articles 111–116 of the GCC. The limitation time for serious financial crimes against the state or state-owned entities is 20 years. Felonies punishable with imprisonment (five to 15 years) are time-barred after 15 years, and misdemeanours punishable with sentences of up to five years are time-barred after five years. As a matter of principle, calculation of these times is made from the time of the act, unless there is a special legal rule that provides otherwise.
Limitation times are suspended for five years (for felonies) or three years (for misdemeanours) while the case is pending before a court and until a final decision is delivered or if there are legal grounds that do not allow the prosecution and/or its continuation. This five-year extension is not valid in cases where there is suspension of the proceedings by law, following certain provisions of the Greek Code of Civil Procedure (GCCP). There are special provisions for cases relating either to the country’s international affairs (Article 29 of the GCCP) or cases that are very closely connected to other criminal cases already pending, and their outcome is of major importance to the suspended criminal case (Article 59 of the GCCP).
Article 8 of the GCC stipulates that Greek legislation is always applicable for offences committed abroad by public officials of the Greek state, or by officials of EU bodies and organisations which are seated in Greece. According to the same provision, Greek legislation is always applicable in a case where the crime committed abroad was directed against, or addressed to, a public official of the Greek state, or a Greek officer of an EU body or organisation, during or in relation to the exercise of their duties.
Moreover, Articles 159 paragraph 4, 159A paragraph 4, 235 paragraph 5 and 236 paragraph 4 of the GCC, which have expanded the definition of “public official” in order to cover foreign public officials, as already previously mentioned, stipulate that active and passive bribery of foreign public officials is punishable when committed abroad, irrespective of dual criminality.
Greek law provides that only individuals may be held liable for a criminal act, thus being subject to classic punishments (eg, imprisonment). Since 1998, after the passing of Law No 2656/1998, there has been a specific provision for penalties, in the form of administrative fines, for legal entities benefiting from acts of bribery of foreign public officials. A company (legal entity) bears liability for acts of bribery and corruption in the form of administrative penalties. Article 45 of Law No 4557/2018 (anti-money laundering regulation) provides for the liability of legal entities if the acts of active and passive bribery of public officials, political officials or judges are committed in the legal entities’ favour by individuals empowered to act on their behalf (as managers or directors) or to make decisions in relation to the company’s activities, etc, and provides for a series of administrative penalties (eg, fines, prohibition of business activities, ban from public tenders, etc). This provision is applicable to perpetrators, accessories and instigators alike. Liability of a successor entity could arise in cases where individuals managing the target entity are held criminally liable for acts of corruption and the target entity has benefited from these acts. Given the fact that the sanctions imposed on an entity are of an administrative nature (fines, suspension of activities, ban from public tenders), it is highly likely that these sanctions will be imposed on the successor entity as well. It is noted that, with respect to administrative sanctions, the procedure followed resembles the procedure of imposing tax-related fines and sanctions. For these purposes, a legal entity is considered as a whole (ie, the successor has all the liabilities and rights of the target entity).
Under Greek law, it is the prosecuting authorities that collect evidence and prove their case. Depending on the phase of the procedure (preliminary inquiry, investigation, pre-indictment) the prosecuting authorities need to satisfy general standards to enable further process of a case-file (usually the existence of sufficient evidence to justify further investigation or recommendation to open a formal investigation or recommendation for trial referral). The defendant is entitled to challenge the prosecuting authorities’ case even at the earliest stages (during the preliminary inquiry and the investigation) on all points, ie, points of law and on the merits. In view of this, the defendant is entitled to request file documents from the authorities carrying out specific investigations, and to request the examination of specific witnesses, expert opinions, etc. The investigating procedure (preliminary and official) is always reviewed by a Council of Judges (three judges), which is competent to examine any procedural objections raised by the defendant.
There are no exceptions to these defences.
There are no de minimis exceptions for the offences described in 2 Classification and Constituent Elements.
No sectors or industries are exempt from those offences.
Article 263A of the GCC provides leniency measures applicable to the perpetrators of active bribery. If individuals who have participated in active bribery report the criminal conduct of the bribed official to the authorities and make substantial disclosures as to the official’s criminal acts, they are eligible either to receive a lesser sentence, or to be granted a suspension of criminal proceedings against them by virtue of a decision of the indicting court, or to be granted suspension of their sentence. There is no general provision for leniency measures applicable to companies or legal entities with respect to acts of corruption. It is possible, however, in view of the ability of the authorities to choose which administrative penalties will be imposed, to apply the minimum fine and no other penalties.
Criminal penalties are solely imposed on individuals and mainly consist of imprisonment and monetary fines. Potential sentences range from ten days to 15 years of imprisonment.
The legal provisions applicable to each case define the range of the sentence to be imposed by the court (ie, the minimum and maximum duration of imprisonment). The GCC (Articles 79–85) sets out the guidelines for imposition and calculation of sentences, within the range mentioned in 5.1 Penalties on Conviction. In particular, the court has to consider various factors, such as the severity of the act and the personality of the defendant. The court also examines – following a request by the defence – whether any mitigating circumstances apply, which could lead to a lesser sentence. Such circumstances include: lack of prior involvement in criminal acts; good behaviour after the act; showing true remorse after the act; and making efforts to amend or lessen the negative impacts of their actions. However, the courts also take into account previous final convictions when calculating the sentence which will be imposed on the individual.
Although the GCC does not establish detailed duties to prevent corruption, Articles 236 paragraph 3, 237 paragraph 3 and 159A paragraph 3 of the GCC provide for the punishment of company executives or any other persons with decision-making or supervisory powers within the company, who fail through negligence to prevent acts of corruption. Moreover, the need to comply with stricter regulations and the changes taking place in all aspects of corporate activities have led to significant changes in the way organisations deal with such matters, realising that detecting and exposing corruption practices helps to reduce and/or eliminate market distortions and improve business practices. Following a series of amendments in tax legislation, which provide for stricter rules in bookkeeping, payments and money transfers, combined with changes in AML legislation, organisations are making a serious effort to comply with such obligations. In addition, certain industries have been more active in promoting best practices guidelines and monitoring the market. Most medium-to-large-scale businesses have an internal control programme in place, and train their employees in anti-corruption procedures on a regular basis, and during the last three to four years, more businesses have been integrating procedures to encourage reporting of corruption (whistle-blowing).
Moreover, recent law 4706/2020 "On Corporate Governance and Capital Market Modernisation" (published on 17-7-2020) stipulates that a corporation is obliged to have an effective compliance programme in place, as part of its Regulation of Internal Operations. Guidance is provided by the regulating bodies of each sector (such as the Bank of Greece), which issue by-laws with the minimum requirements of compliance.
Public officials who become aware, during the exercise of their duties, that a criminal act (of those prosecuted ex officio) has been committed, are under obligation to report it to the authorities. Failure to report is punishable as a criminal offence.
Private individuals are not under the same obligation, but rather, they have the right to report a criminal act to the authorities. Although anti-bribery laws do not explicitly demand disclosure of violations, in the context of money-laundering regulations, compliance and internal audit control, there are obligations to expose and report irregularities related to financial records or suspicious transactions. In this respect, individuals who are obliged by law to contribute to transparency and corporate ethics may be faced with a dilemma when coming across a possible case of bribery. Leniency measures are meant to facilitate disclosure of violations or irregularities. They apply in principle to individuals who expose corrupt practices and relate to their status as defendants in criminal cases. Corporations may still be liable from a tax point of view; however, they are entitled to initiate procedures for an amicable (tax) settlement, which can significantly reduce any fines to be imposed.
Greece does not have systematic legislation protecting whistle-blowers in either the public or the private sector, nor does it have any relevant financial incentive schemes. In the year 2014, however, an addition was made to the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure (Article 47) in respect to “witnesses of public interest”. According to this, individuals giving information to the authorities with regard to corrupt acts may be characterised as “witnesses of public interest” through an order issued by the deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court who supervises the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. In order to achieve the status of a “witness of public interest”, an individual may not have any involvement in the reported criminal acts, or have any personal interest or derive any benefit from their testimony. As a “witness of public interest”, an individual cannot be prosecuted for acts of defamation or violations of personal data law and regulations. In addition, there is protection against termination of the individual's working/professional contract. If the authorities believe that a “witness of public interest” may be in danger, it is also provided that they can achieve the status of an “anonymous witness”, following the procedure set out in legislation governing organised crime. As this is a relatively new provision, there is not much information available on the applicability and effectiveness of this status.
There are no financial incentive schemes for whistle-blowers.
Article 47 of the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure provides for “witnesses of public interest”, see 6.3 Protection Afforded to Whistle-Blowers.
Enforcement of anti-bribery and anti-corruption law is mainly criminal and administrative.
Role of the Prosecutor's Office
Prosecution is always initiated by the Prosecutor’s Office. There is one Prosecutor’s Office for every first instance court (which roughly covers a prefecture). There are also prosecutors with the Court of Appeal (12 circuits), and there is a prosecutor with the Supreme Court. An investigation is always supervised by a prosecutor. The majority of cases are handled by prosecutors of the first instance court (who may receive guidelines or orders for specific investigations from their superiors). In exceptional cases, a prosecutor with the Court of Appeal may step in and conduct or co-ordinate the proceedings. In recent years, two separate prosecutorial offices have been established, specialising in the prosecution of economic crimes and corruption:
Both the above prosecutors are higher-ranking Court of Appeal prosecutors and may request the co-operation of public prosecutors with the first instance court, the police, the regulatory authorities, other administrative authorities and/or other enforcement agencies in the course of their investigations.
Role of Other Enforcement Agencies
Other enforcement agencies act in co-operation with and under the orders of the prosecutor(s). It is most common for the Economic and Financial Crime Unit to do the necessary preliminary investigations, evidence-gathering, report-writing, etc, following a prosecutorial order. In cases of money laundering, the Hellenic FIU gathers all the necessary information and evidence, and if they believe that there is enough to support a criminal case, they forward it to the Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor opens a case against the natural persons or officers of an entity, following standard criminal procedure, ie, conducting a preliminary investigation and opening a formal investigation (conducted by an investigating judge).
The timeframe for executing these procedural steps varies depending on the nature of the case. It is not unusual in serious and complex cases (eg, corruption, large-scale money-laundering and fraud cases) for enforcement agencies and the prosecutor to take action in order to secure evidence (by issuing a warrant for search and seizure, or issuing freezing orders), before the actual filing of charges and before persons of interest are called for questioning. On some occasions, regulatory bodies (eg, the Hellenic Capital Market Commission or the Competition Commission) conduct their investigations in respect of breach of regulations within their competence, and if they also come across evidence of criminal conduct, they gather evidence and send a report to the prosecutor to decide on further steps. Regulatory bodies conduct investigations (during which certain provisions for criminal investigations apply, ie, examination of witnesses, evidence-gathering, etc) but they cannot initiate criminal charges. This responsibility always lies with the prosecutor. In principle, it is the responsibility of the Prosecutor’s Office to decide which body investigates under the prosecutor’s supervision, unless there are specific provisions by law (Prosecutor for Financial and Economic Crime and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor).
It is usual to have civil or administrative enforcement, either by means of the private pursuit of claims (eg the civil claim of one entity or person against another) or by means of the law in cases of tax offences, subsidies fraud, money laundering, securities fraud, bribery and cartel offences. These measures are imposed by the competent agency according to the entity’s status (eg, the Capital Market Commission, the Revenue Service, special departments of the Ministry of Finance, etc). As a general rule, the competent agency for imposing these types of sanctions is the one supervising the entity’s registration, licences, regulation, etc.
In the majority of cases, the authorities will send a written request to a company to forward certain information or documents. In principle, a company must co-operate with the authorities, at least in terms of providing requested information and documentation. Failure to comply with such a request usually has no direct consequences (unless otherwise provided for by law) but may lead to an unfavourable report by the authorities or an on-site search and seizure to obtain requested material.
In all cases, the company may object to handing over certain documents or material (eg, privileged commercial information or correspondence) and may refer to the prosecutor to resolve the issue. In practice, when an on-site search is in progress, the company may not refuse to hand over material but may raise its objections regarding the nature of the material taken (eg, privileged information) when signing the confiscation documents, in which case the material is sealed and taken by the agency, pending resolution of the issue by the courts.
On some occasions (depending on the scope and nature of the investigation), the company may be requested to submit its views in respect of the issues under investigation or to offer evidence in its defence (of any type: witnesses, bank records and correspondence, among others) contesting the views of the investigating authority (usually included in a draft report).
Dawn raids may take place in emergency situations (for instance, to secure evidence) and home searches are conducted in the presence of a prosecutor or magistrate.
Article 263A provides for leniency or even immunity for individuals who inform and/or assist the prosecuting authorities on corruption cases, depending on the procedural stage of the case and on the level of their assistance. In particular, a perpetrator of active bribery (in the public and private sector) shall remain unpunished, provided that they report it to the prosecutor before the opening of an official investigation. Moreover, if during the investigation the perpetrator of an act of bribery contributes substantial information regarding the participation of a public official, they will receive a reduced, or even suspended, sentence.
Jurisdiction rules are set out expressly by the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure and are obligatory. In particular, depending on the place where the offence was committed, the corresponding Prosecutor’s Office will initially have jurisdiction over the case. It should, however, be noted that the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office for Financial and Economic Crime, both located in Athens, may claim jurisdiction over major corruption and bribery cases. In such instances, they will handle the case during the preliminary inquiry but at later stages of the criminal proceedings, jurisdiction will return to the competent criminal authorities (eg, the investigating judge, the judicial council and the court) of the place of the commission of the offence.
Moreover, it should be highlighted that the prosecuting authorities may also proceed with overseas mutual legal assistance requests, in order to retrieve information located abroad, as well as with spontaneous exchange of information with their corresponding authorities.
For the past four years, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating an alleged high-profile corruption case involving a multi-national pharmaceutical company. The investigation was initiated when the prosecuting authorities in Greece received knowledge of allegations made by unknown witnesses, who acted as whistle-blowers to the authorities in the United States. According to these testimonies, executives of the pharmaceutical company allegedly bribed high-ranking public officials (including politicians) in exchange for securing favourable treatment as regards the price-listing of its products. Moreover, the investigation expanded into alleged bribery schemes involving healthcare professionals to increase the prescription of the pharmaceutical company’s products.
This has been a highly politicised criminal case, in which politicians (two former prime ministers and former ministers of health) from the major political parties, as well as other individuals, have been openly targeted by the media and officers of the former government. The Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office carried out multiple dawn raids at the company’s premises in Athens and seized a large number of documents and laptops. A significant number of witnesses has been examined as well. In parallel, other agencies, such as the Economic and Financial Crime Unit (SDOE) and the Health and Welfare Inspectorate, have been investigating this case. To date, the Prosecutor’s Office has not been able to find any evidence to corroborate the whistle-blowers’ vague allegations, and it has recently dropped the case in respect of the former prime ministers and ministers of health (with the exception of one). The company recently reached an agreement with the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to resolve violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) as well as books and records' violations, as regards its interactions with healthcare practitioners. It is noteworthy that the US authorities found no evidence of bribery towards high-ranking government officials.
Other major investigations have been conducted in relation to multi-national companies that have reportedly been systematically giving money to public officials to secure awards of multi-million-euro government contracts, in respect of advanced communication systems, medical supplies and military expenditure (such as Siemens, Johnson & Johnson/DePuy, HDW/Ferrostaal, STN). Investigations have also targeted acts of corruption of former government officials in relation to facilitating payments and tax fraud schemes through real estate deals.
If an individual is convicted, the court has a broad margin in deciding their sentence. The length of the sentence depends on a variety of “personal” factors, such as the individual's role in the criminal act, their criminal past, their family and personal status, etc. Also, the amount of the bribe and the reason for which the bribe was given or promised is also taken into consideration. It should be noted that under the previous legal regime, ie, until the introduction of the new Criminal Code on 1 July 2019, people found guilty of bribery sometimes received sentences exceeding 15 years' imprisonment, or even received life imprisonment. However, during the appellate proceedings, such sentences were usually reduced to more reasonable terms, which had to be partly served.
In its latest “Phase 3bis follow-up: Additional written report” of 2018, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) observes that Greece has fully implemented all the recommendations, based on the conclusions of the two-year written follow-up report of June 2017.
Law 4745/2020 has recently been passed by the Parliament, which provides for a merge of the Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office with the Prosecutor’s Office for Financial and Economic Crime, in order to bring the two Offices under one roof. The aim of this law is to increase efficiency and avoid overlapping between the two Offices.
Last year, Greece went through a significant reform in penal and penal procedure law. This resulted in the voting of two new codes for penal law (Greek Penal Code – GPC) and penal procedure (Greek Penal Procedure Code – GPPC). The Penal Code and the Code of Penal Procedure of Greece were thoroughly amended over the past months (Laws 4619/2019, 4620/2019, 4637/2019). The new amendments have modernised both the structure and the institutions of penal trial. For the first time, Greece adopted officially the principle of opportunity in prosecuting crimes. The role of the Greek prosecutor has been strengthened. Several other changes concerning the victim’s participation in the procedure have also occurred. The so-called “civil plaintiff”, ie, the victim of the criminal action, is no longer obliged to raise a civil action in the criminal procedure to become a party in the trial; he or she can participate in the criminal procedure only to support the prosecution. Furthermore, the “civil liable”, ie, the person or legal entity that is civilly liable for the actions of the defendant, is no longer a party in the criminal procedure. Special prosecution authorities such as the prosecutor of financial crimes and the anti-corruption prosecutor are regulated in the new penal procedure code. In addition, several changes have taken place in the substantial part of the criminal law, especially in the sentencing law and the service-related crimes, as well as the crimes against property. The aforementioned changes will be presented in the following paragraphs.
The Enhanced Role of the Public Prosecutor at the Pre-trial Stage of Penal Procedure
The Public Prosecutor’s role has been greatly enhanced pursuant to the amendments of the GPPC. Until recently, the prosecution of criminal offences was governed by the principle of legality, ie, after receiving the criminal complaint or other information regarding a criminal offence, the Prosecutor was obliged to open criminal proceedings, either by ordering a preliminary inquiry, or by referring the case to trial. The Prosecutor had the right to dismiss the case (archive the case file) only on the grounds that there was no evidence indicating that a criminal offence had been committed, or on legal grounds.
Following the recent amendments, the principle of legality is relativised and the principle of opportunity is winning ground, as the Public Prosecutor has now in more cases the power to abstain from opening criminal proceedings.
Τhe introduction of new institutions and the reinforcement of old ones aim to address the delays in the Greek criminal justice system and the numerous convictions of Greece by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for these delays, while at the same time at discharging the judicial system, thus rendering the investigation of serious cases more efficient and ensuring a fair trial for the cases brought before court. Moreover, the recent amendments are supporting and promoting a restorative and consensual judicial system.
Abstention from initiating criminal proceedings in cases of certain misdemeanours and felonies under specific terms (Articles 48 and 49 of the GCPP) and abstention in cases of felonies prosecuted only after a criminal complaint by the victim
Articles 48, 49 and 50 of the GCPP introduce an alternative procedure within the context of the principle of opportunity. These provisions lay down the substantive and procedural requirements for the termination of criminal proceedings, both at the initial stage, through the abstention from initiating criminal proceedings (Articles 48 paras 1-6 and Article 49 paras 1-3), and at a subsequent stage, through the potential termination of the prosecution (Article 48 para 7 and Article 49 para 4).
Public interest in the prosecution of certain misdemeanours and felonies is substantially offset by the fulfilment of specific conditions which the suspect or the accused accepts to undertake. Τhe abstention from opening criminal proceedings is nowadays a common trend among all European legislations, as well as an alternative institution consistent with the recommendations of the European Council.
Pursuant to Article 48 of the GCPP, the Public Prosecutor can refrain from prosecuting the alleged perpetrators of misdemeanours, punished with imprisonment of up to three years. In these cases, the role of the Public Prosecutor is fundamental, as the abstention is on their initiative. The suspect should consent to the provisional abstention proposed by the Prosecutor and be willing to abide by the specific terms, such as the substantial attempt to reconcile with the victim, the payment of a specific amount of money, etc. According to Article 49 of the GCPP, the Public Prosecutor has the same power in cases of certain felonies against property or other crimes related to financial activities (forgery, false certification, breach of trust, tax offences, etc). In this case, too, the initiative lies with the Public Prosecutor. Moreover, two indispensable conditions which should be met are the full compensation of the victim and the non-commission of similar offences for the next three years.
Furthermore, according to Article 50 of the GCPP, the Public Prosecutor refrains from opening criminal proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of certain financial felonies (fraud, breach of trust, etc), as well as specific felonies against property (theft, misappropriations, damage of foreign property, etc), for which prosecution can - according to the Criminal Code - be initiated only after the victim has filed a complaint. The conditions which should be met for the abstention from opening of criminal proceedings are the reimbursement of the stolen/misappropriated goods or the full compensation of the injured party by the perpetrator, and the written declaration that they do not withhold any other claim.
Penal order in cases of misdemeanours of the competence of the One-member Court of Misdemeanours – an initiative of the Public Prosecutor (Article 409 of the GCPP)
A new institution introduced into the Greek criminal judicial system is the Penal Order, which is similar to the German “Strafbefehl” and already applies to many European legislations. According to Article 409 and following of the GCPP, in cases of misdemeanours of the competence of the One-member Court of Misdemeanours, which are punished with a sentence of imprisonment of up to one year or with a fine (ie, minor offences), the Public Prosecutor, if they are of the opinion that the evidence is not sufficient to refer a case to trial they have the power to apply in writing before the court to request a Penal Order. The court may issue a Penal Order if it considers the written evidence sufficient. The Penal Order briefly describes the offence and imposes a fine. If the defendant does not object thereto, the Penal Order has the same effect as a final judgment.
The institution of the Penal Order might succeed, given that this is the expressed view of the Prosecutor and the Judge, in other words, this early estimation of the possible decision of the court, along with the reduced sentences, will be a significant influence in persuading the defendant to accept the Penal Order.
The introduction of the Institution of Plea Bargaining (Article 303 of the GCPP)
The introduction of the institution (concept) of Plea Bargaining with the aim of addressing the increased backlog of cases in criminal courts is a key innovation to the Greek Criminal Justice System. According to Article 303 of the GCPP, the legislator chose the classic Anglo-Saxon model of Plea Bargaining, in the context of which the agreement is made between the defendant (who can also be represented by a counsel) and the Public Prosecutor, in contrast to other procedural systems, where a court has the dominant role. More specifically, the Greek legislator chose the type of sentence bargaining; the defendant and the public prosecutor can only negotiate the sentence and not the charges, as it was considered that otherwise there was risk of overcharging. In other words, in order to prevent the prosecutors from charging the defendants with more serious offences aiming at persuading them to admit to having committed them. The motive of the defendant who pleads guilty is a significantly reduced sentence. It must be pointed out that the Prosecutor has a dominant role within the plea bargaining. This alternative procedure aspires to be a prominent feature of the Greek criminal justice system, within which a large number of cases shall be resolved and only a few cases will be brought before a court.
The continuation and strengthening of the Institution of Criminal Conciliation Arrangement (Articles 301 – 302 of the GCPP)
Criminal Conciliation has been introduced to the Greek criminal procedure for several years now, but in practice its application has been approached with caution. The continuation and strengthen of the criminal conciliation were deemed necessary by the legislator, as this institution is a quicker alternative to judicial procedure, while it reinforces the Greek legal system by relieving congestion in criminal courts. With Articles 301 – 302 of the GCPP, the legislator has extended the institution's application to felonies committed against the Greek State, to the felonies of forgery and false certification as well as to cases in which the investigation has already been concluded but the trial has not yet begun.
It should be noted that the provisions regarding the abstention from opening of criminal proceedings are different from those concerning criminal conciliation. The latter requires the confession of the accused, the satisfaction of the injured party and the imposition of a reduced sentence, either before or after the stage of giving evidences and before the adoption of the sentence.
Prosecutors of Financial Crime and Anti-corruption Prosecutors and the New Department of Financial Crime
Next to the aforementioned enhanced role of the public prosecutor, the new GPPC described for the period from 1 July 2019 until 6 November 2020 the role and competencies of the financial crime prosecutor and the anti-corruption prosecutors. Unlike the British SFO, neither the anti-corruption prosecutors nor the financial crime prosecutors have been a special prosecuting authority; they were prosecutors of the first and second instance with specific duties and competences. Furthermore, the terms “financial crime” and “corruption” were not legally defined in the penal code. There was, however, next to the sociological approach, a procedural approach of each of these terms described in Articles 33-36 of the penal procedure code (GPPC). Articles 33- 34 of the GPPC described the scope of the prosecutor of financial crime and Articles 35- 36 the scope of the anti-corruption prosecutor.
However, specific amendments and changes occurred very recently to the GPPC regarding both the Prosecutors of Financial Crime and the Anti-corruption Prosecutors. According to the Law 4745/2020, which came into force on 6 November 2020, the specific changes concerning Articles 33-36 of the GPPC led to the unification of the offices of the financial crime prosecutor and the anti-corruption prosecutor. The new department deriving from this merge is named the “Department of Financial Crime” and is seated in the court of Appeal of Athens. Four prosecutors of the second instance will be serving in this new department, assisted by at least eight prosecutors of the first instance. The competence of the new department extends by and large to the charging and prosecuting competence of both the financial crime prosecutor and the anti-corruption prosecutor. In other words, the Department of Financial Crime is competent, on the one hand, for charging tax and customs crimes and financial crimes which cause significant harm to the national economy. This is a rather vague definition of financial crime. In practice, this procedural form of financial crime refers mainly to tax and customs crimes; however, in some cases it might also refer to money laundering and market manipulation, depending on the seriousness of the case and its impact on the national economy. On the other hand, this new Department of Financial Crime is competent to investigate and prosecute felonies, perpetrated by public servants or political persons, aiming at improper economic interest against the Greek state.
The “Department of Financial Crime” may conduct a preliminary inquiry or, in most cases, supervise the inquiry conducted by special prosecution authorities such as the financial police or customs and tax authorities. The financial crime prosecutor is not bound by any kind of professional confidentiality, such as bank, tax or capital-market secrecy, with the exception of the attorney-client privilege. The financial crime prosecutors may also freeze financial assets of the suspects or persons accused, for a period of up to nine months. A decision of the judicial council is required for a further extension of the freezing. They are further assisted by suitably qualified staff, such as accountants, economists or legal experts, who may draw their own conclusions. The Department of Financial Crime will be competent for the whole Greek territory.
Anti-corruption legislation covers an extensive scope of passive and active bribery in the public and private sector, such as: passive and active bribery of public servants (Article 235, 236 of the Penal Code- GPC) and judges (Article 237 of the GPC); trading in influence (Article 237A of the GPC); active and passive bribery in the private sector (Article 396 of the GPC); several aspects of active and passive bribery of voters and political officials in national and communal elections (Article 159, 159A, and 165 of the GPC); active and passive bribery of foreign officials according to the OECD anti-bribery convention; active and passive bribery in sport (Article 132 of Law No 2725/1999); and active and passive bribery of national or EU officials against the financial interest of the European Union (Law 2803/2000).
According to the new GPPC, “corruption-related" crimes in the private sector are not investigated by anti-corruption prosecutors; however, they may be investigated and prosecuted by the prosecutors of financial crimes (Articles 33, 34 of the GPPC). Finally, the prosecutors of financial crimes and the anti-corruption prosecutors are commonly supervised by a specially designated prosecutor of the Supreme Court (Article 33 para 2, 35 para 2 of the GPPC).
It must be noted that proponents of Greek penal theory and practice were rather reluctant to acknowledge the aforementioned specific prosecutors. It seems that in several cases they have acted following direct or indirect instructions by the ministry of justice, whereas a public prosecutor in Greece enjoys judicial status by constitution.
Reforms in Greek Criminal Law
General part-criminal sentencing
Extended reforms have taken place in the general and special part of the Greek penal law. The sentencing procedure has been significantly reformed. According to the previous law, all sentences up to three years could be suspended and all sentences up to five years of imprisonment could be converted to pecuniary penalties. This meant that in most cases no prison time was served for misdemeanours. For that reason, the punishment provided for several crimes was extremely severe.
The new sentencing law abolished the conversion of imprisonment to pecuniary sentence. Every punishment of up to three years' imprisonment may be suspended by the court, either unconditionally, or under the conditions provided in Article 99 para 2 of the GPC. Stricter punishments are most likely to be partially served in prison or, in some cases, converted to community service. This reform in the sentence law has further resulted in rationalising the punishments provided for in several crimes. A further important reform was the abolishing of Law 1608/1950, which provided for the life-time incarceration of the perpetrator for several crimes, when committed against the financial interests of the Greek State and the alleged damage exceeded EUR150.000. This severe regulation was unique in the western world.
Special part-property and service-related offences
Extended reforms have taken place, among others, in service-related criminal offences (“corruption-related” offences). Former Article 263A of the GPC, which extended significantly the scope of “public servant” (“employee”), has been abolished. Service-related crimes now refer only to the public sector. Service-related embezzlement and service-related breach of trust, which were special forms of these crimes, conducted by an employee, were abolished. Embezzlement and breach of trust are provided for only as common crimes, which are punished more severely when targeting the Greek State.
Following the general reform of the sentencing law, the punishments provided for in the special part of the GPC appear reduced. This includes the service-related offences as well. The most important change was the one of the felony of the severe form of active bribery (Article 236 of the GPP) to a misdemeanour. This change has resulted in a shorter time limitation for the crime of active bribery (eight years instead of 20), which has been applied, as lex mitior, in pending cases and has led to several acquittals. Very recently, Article 236 of the GPC was once again changed (Law 4637/19), and active bribery in its severe form is once again a felony.
An extensive reform has taken place in the property crimes. In most cases, such as fraud, embezzlement, and in the less severe acts of breach of trust, the crime is no longer prosecuted ex officio and a criminal complaint by the victim is required. This includes all felonies of fraud and embezzlement, apart from the ones targeting the Greek State, and some felonies of breach of trust, when targeting the banks or/and the capital market system. Theft, however, continues to be prosecuted ex officio.
This change took place to deal with the increased number of pending cases for property crimes, which were prosecuted ex officio, sometimes even without the knowledge of the presumed victim. Law 4637/19 recently extended the requirement of a criminal complaint in felonies of breach of trust against the property of a bank. This means that a bank must file a criminal complaint against the perpetrator of a breach of trust targeting its financial interests. This change is aimed in protecting the bank officers when restructuring the bank’s deficits from being accused of breach of trust.
This article is an updated version of the previous chapter submitted for the Chambers Anti-Corruption Guide 2019, which was authored by Ovvadias S. Namias, Vasileios Petropoulos and Elia Kotsoni.