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  • Writer's pictureRory O'Keeffe, Koraki

Serious problems with NGO allegations

With its claims of an 'investigation' finding '30-40 organisations are guilty' of financial crimes, the Greek government is misleading the Greek public, and carrying out a deliberate act of libel against aid organisations

In a measure transparently generated by Nea Dimokratia, several Greek media outlets have simultaneously published almost identical claims alleging criminal activity by NGOs operating in ‘migration’ in Greece.


The claims are wild, breach every journalistic standard, are further evidence of the abuse of the rule of law in Greece, and in some cases are absolutely demonstrably untrue.


Effectively, they are that:


1. The Greek Anti Money-Laundering Authority has investigated ‘100 NGOs active in migration’ in Greece


2. It has found that ‘for 30 or 40 of them there are indications of committing crimes, such as money-laundering, infidelity, embezzlement, etc.**’.


(**The ‘news’ carrier Protothema (Greece) actually uses the term ‘etc.’ here, and it is one of the least professional things we have ever seen. What the hell does ‘etc’ refer to here? Murder? Being unkind to a squirrel? The three letters are literally there as an invitation for readers to make up their own crimes and fill them in: we will come back to this as part of a wider point)


First of all, we have no doubt that the ‘Authority’ has investigated NGOs. We know because the Greek government told the country's media that it is investigating the Greek Helsinki Monitor, headed by Panayote Dimitras, (it indefensibly and inexplicably said he 'had used money intended for human rights for other purposes' – Mr. Dimitras dismisses the claims as the lies they are).


And the Greek government has form for this, having set the ‘Authority’ on HumanRights360 as part of its efforts to atomise that organisation after it demanded a full and correct investigation into the Greek government killing a five-year-old girl, Maria, on an islet in the Evros River last summer.


Despite this 'investigation' having started on Wednesday 21 September 2022, it has so far not reported a single problem with the organisation's activities or finances.


The idea that the 'Authority' has investigated 100 NGOs is just entirely unbelievable. First, because to undertake a full investigation of one organisation should take months, in almost all cases, and the ‘Authority’ is not well-staffed. To carry out 100 investigations would take it at least five years, if not longer.


Second, because there simply are not 100 NGOs working on ‘migration’ in Greece. Even at the height of the movement of people into (and across) the country in 2015-16 there were nowhere near that many, and today there are certainly far fewer.


This is not a statement based solely on commonsense, though commonsense certainly shows that there is absolutely no way that there are so many NGOs working on ‘migration’ in Greece.


UNHCR Greece lists 82 ‘actors’ as being part of the ‘migration response’ in Greece. At first glance, it may seem that this is not far from ‘100’ (though a margin for error of 18 in every 100 is an unacceptable liberty from a statistical perspective).


But in fact, those ‘actors’ include just 38 Greek and 20 international NGOs. These are joined by nine municipal government departments (which are surely not being accused of breaking Greek law, and are in any case not NGOs), two national government ministries (ditto) and two UN agencies (it cannot be the case that the Greek government believes the UN is a money laundering organisation).


Even if we give the government the benefit of the doubt and accept that it believes the Red Cross and two ‘volunteering organisations’ to be NGOs (they are not), the total would still be just 61 working on the response here in Greece.


So, who did the ‘Authority’ investigate?


Even the number ’30-40’ which the government, through media outlets, claims are ‘guilty’ would effectively mean that the ‘Authority’ has concluded that almost 70 per cent of NGOs operating in Greece are breaking the law.


Even had it in fact carried out 30-40 investigations (and it has not) if those were its findings, the problem would very likely be with it and its investigations, rather than the NGOs themselves.


Equally, what is the number ’30-40’ supposed to be? Forty is 33 per cent higher than 30, and would mean two in every five organisations ‘investigated’ (based on its wildly incorrect claim that it has investigated 100 organisations, and that there are 100 organisations working on migration in Greece. Based on the actual number, 58, this would mean more than two in every three organisations had 'broken the law'. The idea is absolutely ludicrous) are believed to have broken the law.


When such numbers are involved, some accuracy is not just possible, but also very important. So why on Earth has Nea Dimokratia provided the media with a guess as clumsy as ’30-40’ out of ‘100’, or even out of 58/61?


The ’report’ then claims that:


(NGOs) move money either through offshore companies, or through first-degree relatives of the heads of NGOs, who are positioned as ‘straw men’ with high salaries.


And here we hit a wall.


First because what has been made in this government report is a series of allegations, unbacked by any evidence, seemingly to smear every single NGO in the country (because let us be clear, if the government claims there are ‘100’ organisations working on ‘migration’ in Greece, it is absolutely including organisations which do nothing of the sort, thus dragging literally ever NGO in the country into this baseless claim, and thus attacking every NGO operating in Greece right now), and has encouraged the public to add its own crimes to the ‘list’ it has presented.


This is unacceptable from a government, but for the national media to unquestioningly repeat such wild claims is unprofessional and in fact illegal: literally every single NGO operating in Greece now has a very solid libel claim, and should begin legal proceedings holding media organisations who published this nonsense as if it were fact, and Nea Dimokratia, which issued the claim, as defendants.


Second, because the report specifically names only two individuals, and their organisations: Panayote Dimitras and Tommy Olsen, of Aegean Boat Report, neither of which has or could possibly have carried out any of the ‘crimes’ listed.


We know for a fact that Tommy Olsen operates in Norway, so by necessity, the money he receives goes to his organisation’s account in Norway. This is absolutely true for every international organisation operating in Greece, and is not in any way illegal: if the media does not know this, the ‘Authority’ certainly should.


We also know for a fact that Aegean Boat Report has only one person listed as a staff member or associate: Tommy Olsen. The organisation is him.


As many readers will know, Tommy and Panayote are accused of transparently false claims about their activities in ‘migration’, (including ‘setting up a criminal organisation’ – they have not – espionage {not carried out by either} and ‘facilitating the transfer of illegal immigrants’, {which Protothema hilariously here claims is the same as ‘people trafficking’} neither organisation does this, and in any case it is absolutely legal for a person to enter a country to request asylum) because they have consistently recorded and reported the Greek government’s despicable and illegal pushbacks against men, women and children arriving in Greece.


Neither have ever handed cash to a family member, or named one as a member of their ‘organisations’.


So, to whom does this claim refer? Which organisation?


Because by naming these two organisations, and by naming their ‘directors’, the clear implication is that they must be guilty of at least one of these ‘crimes’. Yet we know they are not. (Equally, by claiming ’30-40’ out of ‘100’ the clear implication is that any NGO in Greece right now may be – and therefore can and will be believed to be – guilty. This is open libel)


The sole allegation made here which might apply to either of them is that they somehow ‘misrepresented’ their activities in order to gain funds.


But for this to be true – and it is not – they would have to be actually guilty of the charges the Greek government has invented against them (even if they were guilty of helping people arrive into Greece – and again, they are not: neither organisation does any such thing – the government would then have to argue against international law which states that people can enter a country if they wish to apply for asylum).


And they are guilty of none of them and have not been proven guilty of any of them, so by the literal definition of the law, they are innocent.


Equally, the government – which claims that Dimitras was not carrying out work related to human rights, for which purpose he applied for cash – would also have to somehow show that safeguarding the human rights of every person on the planet by defending the right to travel, and highlighting its illegal denial by a government was not ‘work related to human rights’.


Finally, what Nea Dimokratia has done here is to once again attempt to prejudice a trial which is set to be heard in the Greek court.


This is absolutely illegal and an abuse of the Greek legal system. First, by abusing the rule of law, because there has been and will be no punishment against it for doing this, thus placing the government beyond the reaches of the law, and second, by attempting to carry out a miscarriage of justice: declaring people the government dislikes to be guilty in order to pervert and make impossible the very concept of a fair, unbiased trial.


And it is doing more than that.


This was a scurrilous, libellous and despicable attack on an entire sector of Greek and international activity. The government has consciously and deliberately worked here to ensure anyone who reads this story thinks a large percentage of aid organisations are in fact criminal entities, and that because none are named, literally any and therefore all of them could be. None of them are. But even the government does not believe that they all are, and yet is encouraging the public to believe each individual organisation is.


This is the absolute definition of a libellous act.


We very strongly doubt that any investigation has in fact taken place, and we doubt even more strongly that more than one organisation is guilty of any of these activities, if even one in fact is.


This is yet another example of the Greek government making a laughing stock of the very concept of justice in Greece and it is very much to be hoped that in this era of reduced-to-zero access to people who need assistance, one or more organisations will take sections of the Greek media, and Nea Dimokratia, to court for it.


Of course, no-one will, the government will once again get away with damaging the structure of Greek society, and all of Greece will be poorer for it.

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