UNFOLLOW magazine reporter receives threats by man self-identified as oil magnate Dimitris Melissanidis of Aegean Oil, after publishing a report that implicates the company in an oil smuggling scandal.
On January 31st, the latest -14th- issue of UNFOLLOW magazine hit the newsstands all over Greece. Among other reports, we published one on oil smuggling in Greece – specifically the practice of oil carrier companies to buy oil at reduced-tax rates and channel it back into the market at the normal price.
We also published two reports by the 7th Piraeus Customs Authority, with detailed findings on how two major oil companies engaged in this practice. One is ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum), where the principal shareholders are the Greek state and Spiros Latsis. The other is Aegean Oil, which is run by Dimitris Melissanidis – albeit without an official position, though his brother, Iakovos, holds a post on the board. Finally, in our report we pointed out that although Aegean Oil officials have been charged with smuggling and forgery, their trial has been postponed four times already, while the state attorneys were absent on all four occasions.
Aegean Oil is truly colossal. Among other things, it supplies the American navy, and one of its associated companies trades in the New York stock exchange. A new trial regarding the smuggling and forgery charges is set for February 12th. Media attention in Greece has been, unsurprisingly, non-existent.
ELPE is set to be fully privatized soon, according to the privatization program imposed on Greece by the troika. The front-runner to acquire state owned shares is Spiros Latsis. At the same time, Dimitris Melissanidis is poised to buy the also soon to be privatized OPAP, the state company that holds a monopoly on gambling.
On the day following the publication of UNFOLLOW 14, February 1st, there was a phone call to the office of UNFOLLOW. The number was +30 210 4586000, the caller asked for reporter Lefteris Charalampopoulos, who has written the report, and identified himself as Dimitris Melissanidis.
Our reporter talked to the caller on speaker, with two other UNFOLLOW reporters also present. The man self-identified as Dimitris Melissanidis threatened the magazine with legal action, and our reporter replied that he should of course proceed as he sees fit.
Following that, despite our reporter’s best efforts to converse in a courteous manner, the caller threatened his life repeatedly. Of the 20 minute phonecall, about ten minutes were spent on threats to our reporter.
Part of what was said by the man self-identified as Dimitris Melissanidis, which was taken down by our reporter, follows:
“I’ll have you killed, you, your wife, your children, everything you’ve got”
“I could have you killed without having warned you. But I am a man and I’m gonna have you blown up in your sleep. I’ll have you killed, you, your wife, your children, everything you’ve got”.
When our reporter told the caller that he would alert the authorities, he replied:
“Screw you and the authorities. I don’t understand anything, I am Melissanidis. You will not be able to sleep. You will not be able to go out, I’ll be your nightmare. Fear of me will haunt you. They will come to your house and blow you up in your sleep. I am used to talking to big journalists. I looked you up and I will tear you down”.
When our reporter asked if by “big journalists” the caller meant those who play his game, the caller replied:
“I want you to tell me that with a gun to your head”.
An online search for the phone number that called our office returned:
AEGEAN OIL SA (Melissanidis Dimitrios) Oil Industry and Supply – Main Office.
According to phone company listings, the number is also registered with a number of associated companies, such as AEGEAN AGENCY, AEGEAN BUNKERING SERVICES, AEGEAN MARINE PETROLEUM, AEGEAN OIL, and AEGEAN SHIPPING MANAGEMENT – all based at the same address, 10 Akti Kondyli, Pireaus, 18545.
UNFOLLOW magazine issued a Press release last night, where points out the following:
“First, UNFOLLOW will not be shaken off its course.
Second, after the unprecedented threats on our reporter’s life, we declare that for anything that might from now on endanger the life of our reporter, any of our other reporters, or their families, we will hold the caller self-identified as Dimitris Melissanidis responsible.
Third, we call on the authorities to do their duty.
Fourth, we ask for the support of any journalist with a consciense.
Fifth, we call on Press Unions to take a public position on the event, and do what is necessary, so that journalism in Greece is not stifled.”
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UPDATE (5.2.2013): Late last night –February 4th- UNFOLLOW magazine received a phone call and then an email from Failos Kranidiotis, attorney for Mr Melissanidis. In his email, which UNFOLLOW published on its website today, he states:
“As ordered by my client, Mr Dimitris Melissanidis, I declare the following:
After the severely defamatory article published in your issue of February 2013, you also published on your magazine’s website, on Saturday February 2nd 2013, at 22.15, an article titled ‘Threats against UNFOLLOW from man self-identified as D. Mellissanidis’.
Mr D. Melissanidis declares to you that he has never contacted any of your reporters or any of your collaborators.
You are required to publish his response on your website and to delete the offensive and defamatory comments that follow your post.
Beyond that, he reserves all legal rights.
Failos M. Kranidiotis
UNFOLLOW issued the following brief statement in response: “We have received with interest Mr Kranidiotis’s letter and we anxiously await his actions, which will –according to what he maintains– point to whoever impersonated his client using a phone number registered to Aegean Oil.”
Mr Kranidiotis, as well as being Mr Melissanidis’s attorney, is a longtime friend of the Prime Minister of Greece Antonis Samaras, whom he also serves as an unofficial albeit close advisor. He is also a frequent commenter on public affairs, whose articles on populist right-wing newspapers and websites are notorious for their unashamed nationalism and xenophobia. One of the harshest proponents of authoritarian government, Mr Kranidiotis has gone as far as suggesting in an article that the army should intervene to maintain “order” in Greece.
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UPDATE (10.2.2013): The threats on the life of Lefteris Charalampopoulos, reporter for UNFOLLOW magazine were discussed in the plenary session of the Greek Parliament, brought up by Opposition spokesman Dimitris Papadimoulis, and answered in true government form by New Democracy spokesman Makis Voridis. Here is a video of the discussion, subtitled in English:
SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left, the Main Opposition party) was evidently alarmed by the alleged threats on reporter Lefteris Charalampopoulos’s life, which were, according to UNFOLLOW magazine, made by Aegean Oil magnate Dimitris Melissanidis. However, what the Opposition seems to also have found worrisome in a larger sense is that through the publicity generated by the magazine’s public announcement of the threats, it was revealed that Mr Melissanidis’s attorney is Mr Failos Kranidiotis, an acute public advocate of authoritarian government, and a close friend and unofficial adviser to the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Furthermore, what is alarming according to SYRIZA is that while Mr Kranidiotis apparently has the Prime Minister’s ear, his client Dimitris Melissanidis is poised to buy the soon to be privatized OPAP – the state company that holds a virtual monopoly on gambling.
Nea Dimokratia, the right wing party that heads Greece’s current coalition government shrugged off SYRIZA’s questions in a Parliament plenary session, on February 6th 2013, maintaining that there was no political issue in the threats allegedly made by one private citizen against another, and it chastised SYRIZA for needlessly involving the Prime Minister and bothering Parliament.
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UPDATE (12.2.2013): UNFOLLOW magazine announced yesterday evening that reporter Lefteris Charalampopoulos has filed a law suit against Mr Dimitris Melissanidis.
In a parallel development, the trial of Aegean Oil for smuggling and forgery, which was scheduled to take place today (12.2.2013) after having been postponed four times already, was again postponed, reportedly due to time constraints. A new trial date was fixed for March 1st.
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UPDATE (12.3.2013): The trial of Aegean Oil has been postponed again on two occasions – once on March 1st for March 11th, and once again yesterday for April 12th.