By Dimitris Pagadakis
The brutal targeting of the lawyer Stavros Papastavrou for five whole years ended after the acquittal for him and Samby Mionis. But how are the tons of “mud” he was thrown on him are “washed away” and how is the honour of an innocent person restored?
How does the word “unfortunately” that the prosecutor wrote twice in his final decision evaluated? How is the honour of an innocent man restored after five years of brutal targeting? How are the tones of slanderous “mud” and his daily fraudulent demonization by insincere front pages and unscrupulous political statements repaired? Who, in the end, will apologize to him for everything he suffered from the entanglements of corrupt circles in the justice and political system?
At the age of 53, lawyer Stavros Papastavrou, despite the hardships he has experienced, has the sober subtlety to answer these questions without sophisticated big talk. The bitterness from what he has been through is clearly imprinted on his face, but with the greatest possible naturalness he unfolds things as they really are. As a realist, he knows that there is nothing cute about the “art” of brutal blackmail he has consistently received. Blackmail that canceled every traditional moral barrier and political ethos. What could be more indicative than: “Let Papastavrou go out and talk about Mareva Mitsotaki”, as SYRIZA’s Nikos Pappas urged businessman Samby Mionis at the meeting they had in Cyprus in May 2016? All this while the lawyer was going up his personal Golgotha as he was accused daily as a crook. When at the same time a colossal fine of 3.3 million Euros was imposed on him, his accounts were frozen and he was fired from his job.
Moreover, he was slandered so much that he counted collateral losses in his house as well, as his wife was fired from her job, while his child was being bullied at school. He had become the target of professional and social finger-pointing from the actions of a “factory” of low-life roguery. During those dark times, his name was fetishized and stamped on a ragged flag that supposedly waved against corruption. And he was called upon to defend his personal and professional path by shaking off the stain from his name. To give courage and strength to his relatives and friends. To keep the truth intact and not to be humiliated after repeated inspections by the Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, the Money Laundering Authority, etc. etc. Not to cave in to the four preliminary criminal examinations he underwent, regardless of whether all of them were later filed.
The “easy target”
His “sin” was that he left a successful professional career in the private sector to offer for two and a half years selflessly all the skills he had to his country in a difficult period. In addition, he was member of the political party of New Democracy, diplomatic adviser and collaborator of the former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and had been a lawyer in Mareva Mitsotakis’ company, the wife of the current Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. In essence, however, his pursuers wanted him to be the “easy victim” in order to take him hostage. He was the first and most famous victim to be dragged into their mud under the intolerable authoritarian dogma of overlooking every presumption of innocence, following the method “prosecute him and let him go down. Fine him and let him go to the courts to prove his innocence”! Anyone living such a Kafkaesque experience would have given up the fight to prove that he is not a finger-pointed elephant in a nightmarish circus of fraudulent conspiracies against him. He fought back, he resisted and endured a methodical targeting and defamation, which violated the rule of law, poisoned institutional processes and disregarded the rights of a citizen. “If I did not have my family, my lawyers, my friend Samby and my faith in God, I would not be able to endure everything I suffered”, he simply says today, adding with magnanimity: “What I went through I do not want it to happen again to anyone”.
(Second from the right with then Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras before a EU meeting)
His persecutors considered a man as civilized, educated and polite as himself to be an easy target. With their arrogance and delusions, they believed that a graduate of the Athens Law School, who as best student had the honour of reading the oath at the graduation ceremony, a MA student with the highest distinction from Harvard, would be vulnerable in the softness of his success. An ideal victim to be unbearably pressured, to be tarnished and to expose in his face all the previous corrupt management of the country. They were wrong. First, because they chose to set up an innocent man on the wall with conspiracies, as it turned out. Secondly, because they did not take into account the values and his courage that came from family experiences. The family, on the part of his mother were refugees from the Parla Pisidia of Asia Minor. They settled in Dravisko, Serres in 1921 and started a new life from the beginning. However, it wasn’t meant to be as in 1941 they were forced to experience a new uprooting, under the threatening presence of the Bulgarian gangs (Komitatzides) in the area. The family arrived in Athens on foot carrying in a cart their few possessions along with their four children, to end up living in a makeshift hut in the stream of Paleo Faliro. From the memories of his mother, whose family experienced two complete disasters, relocations and restarts, Papastavros took the hard work, vigor and the strength of survival.
When, after his tax audits that lasted 10 months, from September 2014 to July 2015, the exorbitant fine, the freezing of accounts and the criminal prosecution against him, Papastavrou found himself a meteor over the chaos of the abyss, he took courage from his mother, who was tried in hardships. “Since we lost everything again, we will start all over again”, she told him optimistically, without giving up. On the part of his father, who grew up in the Peloponnese – Thuria, Kyparissia, Longa, Messinia – where his family traded raisins, he inherited the pride, dignity and patience of his character. Physicist and mathematician, Telecommunications executive, his father Nikos Papastavrou was suddenly put “in the fridge” in 1981 with the arrival of the PASOK self-proclaimed “Government of Change” because in the climate of discrimination of the time, he belonged ideologically to the rival party of New Democracy. Since then, he spent 10 years of stagnant career as public servant, almost isolated, without been given any responsibilities, but also without complaining or expressing his justified sadness to his family. However, he was not discouraged, he kept his integrity wholeheartedly and his ideas intact, expecting better days of professional development with increased duties. From the environment of his home, Stavros Papastavrou took life lessons that became the guide of his behavior in the good, the tough and the bad moments of his life until today.
The name of Stavros Papastavrou before 2012 was not widely known in public. In the 1990s he was Secretary General of International Relations & EU of ONNED, New Democracy’s Youth, and an elected member of the Administrative Council of ONNED, while he was also president (1997-2001) of the Student Youth of the European People’s Party. In the meantime, he had worked in the US and was a representative of major credit institutions. A hard worker, a man who wakes up every day at 6 in the morning, active, with rich work experiences, good international acquaintances and relations, was appointed during the first term of the presidency of Antonis Samaras in N.D. as Secretary of International Relations. In a similar position he was assigned by Costas Karamanlis, when he was party president and Prime Minister in the period 2004-2009. At that time, he was included in the European ballot of N.D. Nevertheless, he was not one of the people who belonged to the various internal party groups of the Center-Right.
In the “war room” of Maximos Palace
In June 2012, then-Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wanted to place him on the government’s task force monitoring team. At first, he refused, but from August of the same year, when the country was suffocating and was in danger of being diverted to the direction of Grexit, he entered the battle of negotiations with the Troika with momentum and willingness. He participated in informal meetings in the ministries involved with the creditors. At the same time, without bragging, he had a complete picture in the “war room” of Maximos Palace for all the pending issues with the prerequisites that flowed from the memorandum. As a diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister, he helped on demanding critical discussions with creditors and successfully undertook all the special missions assigned to him. And suddenly, during his tenure, his name became involved in the “Lagarde list” case. His name was automatically targeted by the then official opposition and with the daily accusations of SYRIZA it became famous. He himself spoke of a “mud war” by SYRIZA, gave explanations that were accepted by Samaras and continued his activity from the position he held. However, a painful adventurous odyssey would begin for him.
On September 11, 2015, nine days before the second national elections of the same year conducted by the caretaker government of Vasiliki Thanos with Minister of Justice Dimitris Papagelopoulos, a group of prosecutors traveled to Paris. Its mission was to take a statement from Herve Falciani, a former HSBC executive who stole the “Lagarde list”. The trip to the City of Light was made without the necessary approval or even information of the then prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Efterpi Koutzamanis, something that right from the start made any testimony invalid. Fine print for Papagelopoulos, the so-called “Rasputin” of the Greek justice system behind this move. Although prosecutor Elias Zagoraios stated that he would not go as Falciani was under trial, Papagelopoulos’ gave the order to Eleni Touloupakis for this…”commando” mission, along with Christos Dzouras and Giorgos Kaloudis, and received a USB stick from Falciani. In it, Papastavrou’s name was changed from an attorney representing a beneficiary to a beneficiary. Nothing seemed to add up… However, it served the pre-election propaganda that SYRIZA was launching. A pre-election spot was made in which Tsipras promised with arrogance to control “one by one the 2.062 ‘Papastavros’ of the ‘Lagarde list'”.
The truth is that this USB stick did not free the hands of Papastavrou’s persecutors. It was illegal as it was not officially received by the French authorities. Apart from canceling the validity of the “Lagarde list”, since by changing the name of Papastavrou from an attorney representing a beneficiary to a beneficiary, they practically rendered the documents of the French Ministry of Finance which it sent to Greece, as not credible. It should be noted that the officials in charge were not then summoned to the Greek embassy where the Greek prosecutors took Falciani’s testimony, leaving whatever happened between him and Touloupaki without the presence of any institutional security. Nevertheless, in December 2015, the illegal USB stick was legalized with an amendment by Papagelopoulos, according to which access to illegally obtained material was allowed to be used during an investigation and a trial. It became clear that the order was intended to incriminate the political opponents of the then SYRIZA-ANEL government. The irony of life and history is that this law came back to hit its instigators like a boomerang as Papagelopoulos heads towards the Special Court with the recently published revealing recordings.
From then on, the thriller for Papastavrou took on monstrous proportions. They “crucified” the man with nails of opportunism and expediency. In January 2016, he was given a mammoth-fine, while he was intended to be remanded in custody. As soon as the fine was issued, then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras publicly announced it from Maximou Palace after meeting with North Rhine-Westphalia Finance Minister Norbert Walter-Borjans. Papastavrou, meanwhile, was in a desperate situation. He was motivated by momentum and zeal to resist, but he did not have that much money to pay, his income from law after so much slander had reached rock-bottom -in fact, he had become his own lawyer- while he wasn’t sure anymore whether he would be vindicated after such an immoral framing.
However, the only sole holder of the account and the holder of the shares of the company that appeared on the “Lagarde list”, a childhood friend and collaborator of Samby Mionis, had no doubt about his future vindication. “We will go to international and European courts until the end”, he told him. And he offered to lend him the amount of the fine, as it happened. The vindication finally came, with the corrupt public services being forced to return the money of the fine to Papastavrou. Obviously, without a single apology. However, in that stage, the payment of the fine watered-down the case his passionate persecutors were trying to make. So, they viciously changed the game and took it to another level. They prosecuted him for a crime that provides for life imprisonment in case he is found guilty. New suspense…
(In a meeting of the then Prime Minister Antonis Samaras with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which was also attended by the current Minister of Finance Christos Staikouras)
Seven days after the meeting between Papagelopoulos and Mioni, in the presence of Pappas in Maximos Palace, on March 17, 2016, Touloupaki went to Paris again for a new testimony of Falciani exclusively for the two persecuted and blackmailed men, Papastavrou and Mionis. Meanwhile, Papastavrou and Mionis had invoked a document from Cyprus proving that the company belongs to the Greek-Israeli businessman Samby Mionis. The Cypriot Ministry of Justice sent to the Athens Prosecutor’s Office of Appeals a response to the request for legal assistance confirming the authenticity of the document. This development was hidden and buried, until August 2019. For Papastavrou, the intended burial of a critical acquittal document ended all notions of justice. “With such immoral practices, there is no future for the country. Honest people are discouraged from participating in the public sphere and leave it to the looters. As an active citizen, I do not tolerate this. It’s my duty to resist”, he categorically states.
A few days ago, on July 14, a prosecutor’s finding acquitted Papastavrou and Mionis of criminal acts. In the reasoning of the acquittal where it states that the accusations not being substantiated, there is the word “unfortunately” twice: “Unfortunately, although the legal aid from Cyprus had arrived in Greece since May 2016 and he provided his explanations in June 2016, this affidavit was never communicated to him before he provided his explanations, not even afterwards, until the completion of the preliminary examination in November 2017”. And immediately thereafter: “Unfortunately, in fact, it was not taken into account at all, not even by the prosecutor who prosecuted him. As a result, he was informed of this affidavit only in the context of the end of the investigation, in November 2019”.
Logically for the ordinary reader even the clearest legal texts for professionals, seem almost like encrypted scribbles. But even for a mature lawyer like Stavros Papastavrou, the two times mentioned word “unfortunately” is not enough of a relief for what he spent a whole five years of obvious hostility towards him. Possibly, he does not erase them just like that, but he keeps the spirit of Menandros’ saying, which, in his honest confession, expresses him: “There is the eye of Justice that sees everything”, wrote the poet of the 4th century BC. Which is interpreted that in the end Justice will prevail and the wrongdoers will be exposed and punished. For him it is not a wish, but a belief, a trust in Justice.