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 better suited to address current challenges, such as the offence of dangerous driving or a broad subsidies fraud offence.
In respect of bribery, the new code establishes five offences. Notably, there are separate provisions on:
Sentences for these 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 for five to eight years, whereas bribery for lawful acts constitutes a serious misdemeanour punishable by imprisonment for up to five 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 sanctions 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 (eg, breach of fiduciary duties, issuing of a false certificate), 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 is 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 fail through negligence to prevent active bribery of judicial officials are 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 five to 15 years. Company executives, or any other person with decision-making or supervisory powers, who fail through negligence to prevent active political bribery are punished with imprisonment for 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 as follows:
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 for up to five years. In a case where the sport’s game was actually influenced, the offence is punishable by imprisonment for 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 book-keeping 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 as amended by Law 4819/2021) 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 for 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) they are in charge of the property of another person or entity, acts 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 for 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 book-keeping 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). 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 the aforementioned 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 until the validity of the information they provided is verified, 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 imposed solely on individuals and consist mainly of imprisonment and monetary fines. Potential sentences range from ten days’ to 15 years’ 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 book-keeping, 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, the recent Law 4706/2020 On Corporate Governance and Capital Market Modernisation (published on 17 July 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.
Lobbying activities are regulated by Law 4829/2021, which was passed last year by the Parliament. The aim of this law is to ensure integrity and transparency when exercising lobbying activities. To this end, a Transparency Registrar was established to which all natural and legal persons who exercise lobbying activities for a fee, through communications with institutional bodies (ie, the bodies exercising a legislative or executive function, their members or employees, whether acting individually or collectively), must register by providing information about their identity and activities. On an annual basis, their representatives must file a declaration with the National Transparency Agency, stating, amongst others, the policy area and type of decision that was influenced, the details of the person who exercised influence, as well as of their client, the time and manner in which the lobbying activity was carried out, the institutional body to which the lobbying activity was addressed, and, finally, the intended result.
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.
Recently, Law 4990/2022 was passed by the Parliament, which transposed Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2019 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law. This is the first law that creates a framework for the protection of whistle-blowers in Greece and aims to establish a system of internal and external reporting of violations of Union law, to specify the procedure for submitting, receiving and monitoring such reports, to offer broad protection to the persons who report such violations, and to provide for sanctions in case of violation of its provisions.
In relation to the protection whistle-blowers enjoy, the said law provides for the prohibition of retaliation against whistle-blowers (eg, their employment or business status should not be negatively affected, imposition of any disciplinary measure is prohibited as well as any discrimination, disadvantageous or unfair treatment), measures for their support (eg, legal aid and psychological support), and measures for protection against retaliation (eg, they shall not be considered to have breached any restriction on disclosure of information and shall not incur liability of any kind in respect of such a report or public disclosure provided that they had reasonable grounds to believe that the reporting or public disclosure of such information was necessary for revealing a breach, suspension of any criminal, administrative or civil proceedings that may have been initiated due to the whistle-blower’s disclosure of information).
As these are new provisions, there is not yet enough information available in order to comment on their applicability and effectiveness.
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 6.4 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, the Prosecutor of Economic Crime has been established (Articles 33–36 of Greek Code of Criminal Procedure) with powers to prosecute and supervise investigations of financial fraud, criminal tax offences, and financial and economic crimes against the state, state-owned entities or of broader public interest.
The above-mentioned prosecutor is a higher-ranking Court of Appeal prosecutor 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).
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). 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 most 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 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. Notably, 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. 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 Prosecutor’s Office for Financial and Economic Crime 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 with the aim of retrieving information located abroad, as well as with spontaneous exchange of information with their corresponding authorities.
Based on the findings of a financial investigation conducted by third parties, it was revealed that, from 2001 to 2017, the management of a Greek-based international company that designs, manufactures and distributes luxury jewellery and watches had falsified its financial statements by inflating its sales, profits and equity, through virtual purchases and sales. These fictitious transactions allegedly took place between 27 companies in different parts of the world, mainly in Asia. After the conclusion of a preliminary inquiry and a main investigation, the Judicial Council with the Court of Misdemeanours of Athens decided on the indictment of the former CEO and other defendants, including the founder of the company, on charges of forming a criminal organisation, falsifying the company’s financial statements, market abuse, money laundering and embezzlement.
Other major investigations have been conducted in relation to multinational 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. 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.
A law was recently voted by the Parliament, which included some amendments to bribery legislation, with a view to expanding the jurisdiction of Greek courts on bribery acts committed abroad and restricting leniency measures with regard to bribery.
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Under Greek law there is no legal obligation for companies (or groups of companies) to carry out internal investigations. The Greek Code of Criminal Procedure does not provide any information regarding the permitted or prohibited nature of private investigations. As a result, the area of corporate or intra-group investigations in the Greek legal system can be regarded as a legal vacuum. However, it is accepted that the investigation of crimes is not exclusively granted to the state, which gives private internal investigations a permissible character.
Conduct of Internal Investigations in Greece
There is still not a specific legal framework in Greece concerning the conduct of internal investigations and the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure does not provide any information on the nature of (private) internal investigations. Therefore, there is a lack of standardisation of the procedure for both the collection and the recording of the investigative findings.
It appears that more and more criminal cases from Greek legal practice are based on material collected and evaluated by means of internal investigations. Under the Greek legal system, investigations within the company can take place either voluntarily, after a Board of Directors’ decision, or on the initiative of the state authorities. In the former case, the purpose of self-regulation is not to avoid criminal conduct, but to uncover and punish it later. In the latter case, certain public authorities, such as the Capital Market Commission in the case of listed companies, have the authority to commission private bodies, such as an auditing or legal firm, to carry out an internal investigation. Of course, there is also the classical way, ie, the internal investigation can be led by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which carries out the investigations with the help of state authorities, such as the Financial Police, the Economic Crimes Department of the Tax Office, etc.
Recent judicial practice has shown that conducting an internal investigation at an early stage of a criminal case is crucial for the effective gathering of evidence and a speedy trial. So, there are many benefits from this practice, not only for the company that commissions the internal investigation but also for the state:
Importance of Internal Investigations Under the Greek Legal System
The Greek legal system does not contain any specific provisions that focus on a reaction to the violations of rules that have already been committed with the aim of clarifying them and limiting their consequences. However, that does not mean that the practice of internal investigations is foreign or unknown to the Greek legal order.
First of all, a new “general provision” (Article 405 of the Greek Criminal Code) was introduced into the Criminal Code as the last article in the chapter on property crimes, according to which in most property crimes (ie, fraud, computer fraud, embezzlement against credit institutions) – irrespective of the amount of the damage – prosecution only occurs at the request of the injured party. This provision concerns the core of the matter of economic criminal law.
A company can also be considered an injured party. Legal entities can lodge criminal complaints and participate in the criminal proceedings as civil prosecutors. It goes without saying that after this fundamental legal change, the companies concerned hire external consultants or investigators – in practice, mostly specialised lawyers – to prepare a report to clarify possible criminal conduct as well as to determine the circle of potential offenders. On the basis of the report, the decision is made on the part of the company whether to file a criminal complaint – and, if so, against whom this complaint will be filed. In order to prepare the report, an internal investigation is carried out in the company, based on the entirety of the available material, such as email correspondence, records, documents, balance sheet rolls, interviews, etc. The most crucial part of the report is the legal assessment and proposal regarding the criminal misconduct that was investigated. The practical relevance of internal investigations after the reform of the Economic Criminal Law in Greece is thus evident.
Internal investigations can also be crucial for the purpose of determining the amount of the damage caused by a criminal conduct against the interests of the company or by an agent of the company. This is particularly important in view of the introduction of alternative procedural forms for settling criminal trial in the Greek legal order, ie, criminal conciliation (Articles 301, 302 Greek Code of Criminal Procedure), plea bargaining (Article 303 Greek Code of Criminal Procedure) and satisfaction of the harmed person (Article 405 (2) (3)). That way the conduct of an internal investigation, even after the commencement of criminal prosecution, can simplify and accelerate the proceedings, which is critical because of the serious delays in the administration of justice in Greece.
Furthermore, Article 102 of the Greek Companies Act is equally fundamental in relation to the conduct of internal investigations. Article 102 (1) states that the members of the board of directors shall be liable to the company for any damage incurred as a result of their acts or omissions contrary to their duties. Pursuant to Article 102 (4), the liability of the members of the board of directors may be excluded if such acts or omissions are based on expert opinion or assessment of an external, independent third party who has relevant expertise.
Board members are often faced with a tough dilemma, when there is a suspicion of certain illegal conduct within the legal entity, but it is not sufficiently substantiated. The filing of an unsubstantiated complaint, especially if it is directed against a specific person, carries the risk of incriminating board members for the offences of defamation (Article 363 of the Greek Criminal Code) and false accusation (Article 229 of the Greek Criminal Code). At the same time, failure to lodge a criminal and/or civil complaint runs the risk that claims may be brought against the members of the Board under Article 102 of the Greek Companies Act or even that criminal liability for the offence of abuse of trust (Article 390 of the Greek Criminal Code) may be incurred. In this case, an internal investigation by a law firm specialising in criminal law is a one-way street. Based on the findings and legal assessments of the final report, board members will act without the risk of incurring civil or criminal liability.
It thus turns out that the investigator’ s final report is important in two respects:
Furthermore, Article 45 of the Money Laundering Act of 2018 is of importance. Under this article, the imposition of administrative fines and other administrative sanctions on legal persons can occur as a secondary effect of a criminal punishment for money laundering, if the money laundering or the predicate offence was committed for the benefit of the legal person. The same applies if the money laundering was only made possible due to a lack of or inadequate supervision of the perpetrator on the part of the legal entity. Administrative sanctions can be very high (sanctions range from EUR50,000 to EUR10 million and temporary suspension of operations between one month and two years – possibly even permanent suspension of operations).
Article 45 (4) of the Money Laundering Act provides, inter alia, that the cumulative or alternative imposition of the above sanctions, as well as the corresponding sanction assessment, depend on the actions of the company after the unlawful act. This provision sufficiently demonstrates that potential internal company investigations with regard to violations of rules relevant under criminal law can lead to a mitigation of the prescribed sanctions for the legal entity.
In addition, Article 263A of the Greek Criminal Code provides for leniency measures for persons who contribute to the disclosure of acts of corruption, while according to Article 396 (2A) of the Greek Criminal Code the punishability of the acceptance and offer of an advantage in the private sector (Article 396 (1) (2) of the Greek Criminal Code) is expunged if the responsible person, of their own volition and before being examined in any way by the authorities, reports their act to the judicial authorities by means of a written report. Ordering an internal investigation and submitting a thorough final report to the competent judicial authorities can therefore have significant benefits for all parties involved.
From the presentation of the above provisions, it can be concluded that, despite the fact that in Greek law internal investigations are not explicitly regulated, they can have a substantial (positive) effect on the possible legal consequences for both the company and the members of the board of directors.
Order for an Internal Investigation by Supervisory Authorities
It is common for Greek supervisory authorities to commission law firms or auditing companies to conduct an internal investigation. Especially in capital market cases, the Greek supervisory authority, the Hellenic Capital Market Commission, has ordered the conduct of an internal investigation in order to save money and manpower, especially when the company under investigation refuses to respond to an initial summons. In this case, the cost of the investigation shall be borne by the listed company under investigation and the final report is primarily addressed to the company and also to the supervisory authority because the administrative investigations must remain secret. However, it is rather common for minority shareholders to demand access to the report in order to bring criminal and/or civil charges against the executive board of the company. To this end, the report can only be kept secret after invoking the attorney–client privilege, which applies when the investigation is carried out by a law firm.
Conduct of Internal Investigations by Lawyers Specialising in White-Collar Criminal Law
It is fundamental for the efficient conduct of an internal investigation to involve external investigators or consultants. In practice, the persons involved are, for the most part, specialist lawyers in criminal law, and in some cases also auditors who act on behalf of the company concerned.
In the context of this co-operation, lawyers specialising in white-collar criminal law or law firms in general have the following comparative advantages compared to auditing firms or in-house lawyers.
It should not be forgotten that, although the area of internal investigations is to be regarded as a legal vacuum, the investigators are not operating in a lawless space. In addition to data protection law, supplementary penal provisions also pose a number of hurdles that must be taken into consideration at all costs in order to avoid criminal liability, claims for damages because of the internal investigation and possible grounds for nullity.
The relevant criminal provisions focus on protecting individual interests of employees in individual investigative measures. The conflict between the duty to testify under labour law and the nemo tenetur principle comes to the fore here. The lawyer’s duty of confidentiality and other professional duties, which are established for the protection of the client, should also be considered.
Internal Investigations: A Modern Practice, Which Will Also Prevail in Modernising Greece
The assessment that this practice will prevail in Greece is based on the following facts and thoughts.
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