by Elektra Kotsoni
Athens and the smog (Photo by Yannis Larios).
Christmas in Greece this year was pretty much just like any other Christmas: people met up with family and friends, exchanged presents (on a budget), got too drunk too quick and ate food offered to them in quantities largely unaffected by the crisis. The major difference was that everyone did all those things wrapped up in their coats, scarves, gloves and everything else people wear when they need to keep their extremities warm, because no one could afford to heat their house.
Petrol prices have reached new highs and, for whatever reason, most Greek households run on petrol (I guess nobody offered us a gas pipe from Russia, or something), so the city ended up covered in a cloud of smog spewed out from thousands of fireplaces and stoves. Everyone talked about how bad smog is for the environment and my mum kept apologising to anyone who came round about how cold our house was, but no one was talking about why we didn’t have any heating in the first place.
Until last week, when Unfollow magazine published an extensive report on the smuggling of shipping oil. A day after the magazine went to print, Lefteris Charalampopoulos – the guy who wrote the article – received a phone call from someone claiming to be oil magnate (and alleged oil smuggler) Dimitris Melissanidis, who threatened to kill him. I spoke to Unfollow’s editor-in-chief, Augustine Zenakos, who witnessed the conversation.
VICE: Hi Augustine. Could you first give me a synopsis of Lefteris’s article?
Augostine Zenakos: Since petrol prices in the country skyrocketed, the government have been talking about fighting oil smuggling, but it only seems to do so by persecuting small business owners – like people who run gas stations – for minor crimes. However, there’s this whole other side to oil smuggling that involves shipping oil, which is what our story deals with. Shipping companies don’t have to pay import tax for the petrol they use, which is coloured so you can identify it. The oil is then decolourised and channeled back into the market. Our article shows that two massive Greek oil companies are accused by Customs Authorities to have engaged in this practice.
That’s not good news. How did you go about proving that?
We published two reports by the 7th Piraeus Customs Authority showing how these two companies, ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) and Aegean Oil, have been unable to explain the large quantities of oil missing from their cargo – quantities amounting to millions of litres in both cases. The Aegean Oil case has actually been taken to court, but the trial has been delayed four times because the public prosecutors never bother to show up. One of the prosecuted is Iakovos Melissandis, who’s on the board of Aegean Oil, but our research shows that the guy running the company is actually his brother, Dimitris.
Yeah. I hear this guy is on the verge of a major deal, too.
Yes. Another thing the article stresses is that Dimitris Melissanidis is poised to buy the soon to be privatised OPAP – the state company that holds a monopoly on gambling. So, the main curiosity is the silence of the media in cases like that. They might spend hours arguing over some gas station owner, but when it comes to a company as big as Aegean oil – a company that supplies the American navy – you don’t hear a thing.
And it was Dimitris who supposedly threatened your colleague?
Yeah. A day after the magazine went to print, we got a phone call asking for Lefteris Charalampopoulos – the writer – and the caller identified himself as Dimitris Melissanidis and threatened him. First with legal action, then going on to threaten his life and his family. He said, “I could have you killed without warning you. But I’m a man and I’m gonna have you blown up in your sleep. I’ll have you killed, your wife, your children, everything you’ve got.” The call lasted 20 minutes, half of which was spent threatening our reporter.
The cover of the latest issue of Unfollow magazine.
Do you think it was actually Dimitris calling?
Well, we have caller ID, so, after a quick Google search, we could see that the number they were calling from belongs to Aegean Oil. The rest of the information is in the hands of our lawyers and we’re prepared to act in any way they advice us.
Is there any reason for you to believe it wasn’t Dimitris Melissanidis?
I’d rather not comment on that because of the legal dimension of the case. What I need to say, however, is that Mr Melissanidis’ lawyer is a guy called Failos Kranidiotis, who not only happens to be an advisor to the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, but is also the creative mind behind a myriad of far-right, xenophobic articles. Mr Kranidiotis sent us a letter the other day stating his client denies he ever made that call. We published the letter on our site and said we expect to see Mr Kranidiotis taking action to find out who forged his client’s identity if what he’s saying is the truth.
How have the authorities reacted so far?
The police haven’t done anything. Parties of the opposition, the press association and the guild of journalists have made announcements condemning the actions, but not the state. We haven’t filed our report yet, but the police should still have acted on its own accord. The authorities in Greece aren’t exactly famous for their reflexes in matters like this, though.
What do you expect to happen?
Look, we are journalists. All we care about is for all sides of a story to be visible. It’s a fact that, in Greece, everything in the media works according to who it’s about. We’re against that. We want to know what’s really going on and for the media to remain untouched by government propaganda.
Check out Unfollow magazine here.
Follow Elektra on Twitter @elektrakotsoni