Greece: Bribery & Corruption

The In-House Lawyer Logo

This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to bribery & corruption law in Greece.

It will cover the definition of bribery, regulation, compliance, liability and enforcement as well as insight and opinion and any upcoming legal changes planned for their respective country.

This Q&A is part of the global guide. For a full list of jurisdictional Q&As visit http://www.inhouselawyer.co.uk/practice-areas/bribery-corruption/

  1. What is the legal framework (legislation/regulations) governing bribery and corruption in your jurisdiction?

    Following continuous amendments of relevant legislation and ratification of all major international instruments against corruption (see below under 19), the main core of anti-corruption legislation is found in articles 235-238 of the Greek Criminal Code, Law 4022/2011 (Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and procedure), Law 3691/2008 (AML Regulation, sanctions applicable to acts of corruption).

  2. Which authorities have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute bribery in your jurisdiction?

    The core investigation authority is the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor and the Special Body of Investigators for acts of corruption (both are provided for in Law 4022/2011). The Anti-Corruption Prosecutor may engage other agencies or Authorities to provide assistance in specific fields or investigations which require special knowledge, such as the Hellenic FIU (Financial Intelligence Unit), the FECU (Financial and Economic Crime Unit), the Financial Police (special department within the Police), the General Inspector of Public Administration, the Hellenic Capital Market Commission etc.

    The Anti-Corruption Prosecutor is responsible to collect first evidence on possible acts of corruption and then orders an investigation by the Investigators of Law 4022/2011. The decision to refer cases of corruption to trial is not done by the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor or the Investigators but – following standard procedure – by a Judicial Council (Three Judges having sessions in camera).

  3. How is bribery defined?

    Bribery in the public sector (public officials) is an act of giving (or receiving) or promising (or accepting), directly or through third parties or intermediaries, unlawful benefits or gain to 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 maybe concluded or expected to be concluded in the future.

    Bribery in the private sector 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.).

    It is noted that under Greek Law the promise of a benefit, gain etc. constitutes bribery (even before the gain or benefit has been awarded).

    Gains and benefits are not only cash/cash equivalents but also intangible benefits (e.g. promotion or favorable transfer to a better position). The unlawfulness of such gains/benefits is judged on an ad hoc basis. Generally, a benefit may be considered unlawful if it goes beyond the standards of proper social and/or professional conduct.

  4. Does the law distinguish between bribery of a public official and bribery of private persons? If so, how is ‘public official’ defined? Are there different definitions for bribery of a public official and bribery of a private person?

    There is a distinction between bribery of public officials and private persons. Both are punishable under Greek Law.

    A public official is a person entrusted permanently or temporarily with the exercise of duties directly related to the State or public law entities.

    Article 263A of the Greek Criminal Code (as amended) has extended the notion of “public official” including employees of entities of private law established and/or controlled by the State or of other public law entities, domestic banks, members of the judiciary (also arbitrators), members of international and transnational bodies, mayors and/or members of local governments or local parliaments, members of international organizations, members of EU Bodies, individuals that exercise public service for a foreign country.

  5. What are the civil consequences of bribery in your jurisdiction?

    Civil consequences may arise either from provisions of the Greek Civil Code or the provisions included in the Civil Law Convention on Corruption in 2001 (Law No. 2957/2001). Apart from seeking compensation, entities that have gained unlawful advantage or benefit through acts of bribery may face consequences such as annulment of agreements/contracts and claims for related damages.

  6. What are the criminal consequences of bribery in your jurisdiction?

    Passive Bribery (applicable to individuals):
    The basic sanction for individuals in respect to passive bribery (the public officials) is imprisonment (maximum five years) and a fine ranging from €5,000 to €50,000. If the perpetrator is committing such acts by profession or repeatedly or the gift or benefit is of a high value, the act is a felony punishable with imprisonment for up to 10 years (minimum sentence five years) and a fine ranging from €10,000 to €100,000.

    If the act is committed contrary to one’s duties, there is provision for a prison sentence up to 10 years and a fine ranging from €15,000 to €150,000 and if such acts are committed by profession or repeatedly or the gift or benefit is of a high value, the prison sentence is up 15 years and the fine ranges from €15,000 to €150,000.

    Active Bribery (applicable to individuals):
    The basic sanction is imprisonment (maximum five years) and a fine ranging from €5,000 to €50,000. If the bribed official acted contrary to his or her duties the perpetration is the act is a felony punishable with imprisonment for up to 10 years (minimum sentence five years) and a fine ranging from €15,000 to €150,000.

    All assets and financial gains deriving from the punishable act are seized.

    Liability of entities:
    Entities are not prosecuted and may not be held criminally liable. Instead there are provisions for fines and other restrictions as follows:

    a) a fine ranging from €50,000 to €10 million;

    b) permanent suspension of business activities or temporary suspension of such for a time period of one month to two years;

    c) prohibition of specific business activities (eg, establishing new branches) for a time period of one month to two years;

    d) permanent or temporary ban (one month to two years) from public tenders or state funding.

    The fine is always imposed. As regards the rest of the sanctions, the competent Authorities may impose all of them or some of them depending on the degree of liability of the entity, the value of the unlawful gain, the financial status of the entity and the damages caused to third parties.
    The above sanctions are independent of any other sanctions that may be imposed against the entity from the competent regulatory authorities in other proceedings (e.g. administrative/disciplinary proceedings).

  7. Does the law place any restrictions on hospitality, travel and entertainment expenses? Are there specific regulations restricting such expenses for foreign public officials?

    General restrictions applicable to all businesses and activities are not in place, so these expenses are not totally prohibited and there are no threshold rules for such expenses. There are, however, restrictions or prohibitions in certain industries governed by special regulations or restrictions by the Accounting Regulation.

    In the field of healthcare, for example, specific rules are applicable in relation to these expenses while in other fields (e.g. public works) these are totally prohibited.

  8. Are political contributions regulated?

    Political contributions are governed by Law 3023/2002 (as amended in 2014 and 2017). There are provisions for transparency of contributions, proper registration, publishing complete financial statements, restrictions in receiving funding, disclosures etc. Violations of these provisions are punishable with fines, suspension of sponsorships and, for certain type of offences, imprisonment for the individuals.

  9. Are facilitation payments regulated? If not, what is the general approach to such payments?

    Facilitation payments are prohibited. They are considered illegal not only in respect to anti-corruption laws and regulations but also in respect to taxation laws and regulations. These types of payments may not be registered in the books and records of a company, since they are not recognised by law.

  10. Are there any defences available?

    Under Greek Law it is the prosecuting authorities that collect evidence and prove their case but there is no system of evidence testing. 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 enough 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, i.e. points of law and on the merits.

    In view of this, the defendant is entitled to request from the authorities carrying out specific investigating actions, file documents, request examination of specific witnesses, request 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.

  11. Are compliance programs a mitigating factor to reduce/eliminate liability for bribery offences in your jurisdiction?

    Although not specifically provided for in the legal framework governing corruption offences, the existence of a proper compliance program may serve as a mitigating factor or even a defence to reduce/eliminate liability. A compliance program may be used to argue and/or prove that there is compliance of the entity to its legal obligations and argue on the degree of liability, which would result to sanctions on the lower side of the above provisions.

  12. Who may be held liable for bribery? Only individuals, or also corporate entities?

    Liability as a general term may be refer to individuals and entities alike. Liability maybe criminal or civil liability.

    Criminal Liability:
    Only individuals may be held criminally liable. Under Greek Law, legal entities may not be the subject of criminal proceedings, they can’t be prosecuted or criminally convicted. Entities may be included in a criminal trial not as defendants but as third parties liable for damages. In view of the fact that Greece has undertaken obligations to comply with the international conventions and other instruments for combating corruption, there are provisions for liability of entities within the context of criminal proceedings, which take the form of fines and/or administrative penalties. This liability (connected to the criminal proceedings) is independent from other sanctions (civil or administrative).

    Civil Liability:
    Individuals and entities may be held liable in the course of civil proceedings. Individuals and entities may also be held liable in the course of independent proceedings conducted by other Regulatory Bodies (e.g. the Capital Market Commission, the Competition Commission, the Central Bank of Greece etc.)

  13. Has the government published any guidance advising how to comply with anti-corruption and bribery laws in your jurisdiction? If so, what are the elements of an effective corporate compliance program?

    Several enforcement agencies and regulatory bodies have issued over the years guidelines in respect to anti-corruption regulation, best practices, signs of irregularity of transactions etc. In addition to the guidelines issued by Regulatory Bodies (e.g. Bank of Greece, Hellenic FIU, Capital Market Commission), business associations in sensitive industries (e.g. healthcare) are proposing guidelines to their members, recommending best practices, evaluating market statistics, sharing experience from other jurisdictions etc.

    The effectiveness of a corporate compliance program is always dependent on the special characteristics of a business activity. Generally, a compliance program is effective when:

    • It sets out uniform practices within the entity in relation to communication and interaction with clients, suppliers and third parties. These practices should be reviewed on a regular basis and updated when necessary.
    • It has useful and comprehensive tools to enable identification of red flags or signs of irregularity
    • It sets out a standard procedure for internal reporting

    It is also important to include provisions for regular training of employees on signs of possible misconduct and encourage them to address signs of irregularity using available procedures.

  14. Does the law provide protection to whistle-blowers?

    In the year 2014 an addition was made to the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure in respect to “witnesses of public interest”. According to this, individuals giving information to the authorities with regard to corruption acts may be characterized as “witnesses of public interest” with an order issued by the Deputy Prosecutor of the Supreme Court who supervises the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. In order to achieve the status of a “witness of public interest” one must not have any implication in the reported criminal acts and have no personal interest or benefit from his/her testimony. As a “witness of public interest” one can’t be prosecuted for acts of defamation or violations of personal data law and regulations. In addition, there is protection against termination of one’s working/professional contract. If the Authorities believe that a “witness of public interest” may be in danger, it is also provided that he/she can achieve the status of an “anonymous witness” following the procedure set out in the legislation governing organized crime.

    Being a relatively new provision, there isn’t enough information on applicability and effectiveness.

  15. How common are government authority investigations into allegations of bribery?

    Under Greek Law the competent authorities for investigating allegations of bribery, i.e. the prosecuting authorities, are under an obligation to initiate a preliminary inquiry as soon as they are informed on possible misconduct. This information may be a formal complaint, an anonymous tip or even information leaked to the Press. This is also the case for other criminal acts, so opening an investigation into allegations of bribery does not require exercising discretionary power by the authorities (whether to start an investigation or not) but normal progress of the procedure.

    Given that at least two Authorities are awarded power to investigate exclusively (Anti-Corruption Prosecutor) or primarily (the General Inspector of Public Administration) acts of corruption, it is evident that all relevant allegations are being investigated.

  16. What are the recent trends in investigations and enforcement in your jurisdiction?

    The competent Prosecuting Authorities (namely the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Office) have become very active in investigating cases of alleged bribery and have been targeting specific industries and sectors, such as the health industry, public works and financial institutions. Many of these investigations have become high profile cases, covered by the media on a daily basis. In many of these cases members of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office have traveled to other jurisdictions to seek assistance by other enforcement agencies in collecting evidence and they have been relying heavily on mutual assistance requests especially for acquiring evidence of money transactions between jurisdictions.

    In the past year there has also been a combined co-operation of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and other enforcement agencies, especially the General Inspector of Public Administration and the Financial Police to address allegations on corruption.

  17. Is there a process of judicial review for challenging government authority action and decisions?

    Depending on the type of procedure (criminal or administrative) and the phase of the investigation, inquiry etc. there are provisions with the Greek Code of Criminal Procedure as well as the Administrative Code of Procedure for judicial review of the authorities’ decisions. As regards the criminal investigation of bribery acts, the whole investigation is reviewed at its conclusion by a Judicial Council (on points of law and procedural safe-guards). Challenging decision and actions as they happen, however, may not be feasible, due to the fact that the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor (as well as the Special Investigators for corruption acts) are given extensive powers to seize, confiscate, gain access to privileged information etc. It is provided that all these actions may be challenged with the competent Judicial Council but review is done after these actions/decisions have taken place.

  18. Are there any planned developments or reforms of bribery and anti-corruption laws in your jurisdiction?

    The legal framework for corruption offences and related acts (money laundering, tax regulation) has been reformed repeatedly in the last 5 years. The provisions for punishable acts, sanctions, fines and procedure have been amended 5 times from 2102 and on, with last amendment having been introduced in December 2017. There is currently no planning for amending these provisions.

  19. To which international anti-corruption conventions is your country party?

    Greece has ratified all major international anti-corruption conventions and has passed legal provisions to conform with them:

    The UN Convention Against Corruption (Law 3666/2008); the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and Additional Protocol (Law 3560/2007); the Council of Europe Civil Law Convention on Corruption (Law 2957/2001); the EU Convention on the Protection of the European Communities’ Financial Interests (Law 2803/2000); the EU Convention Against Corruption Involving Officials of the European Communities or Officials of Member States of the European Union (Official Journal C195 of June 25 1997) (Law 2802/2000); and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (Law 2656/1998).

    In addition to the above, Greece complies with the EU policies against corruption in specific industries (e.g. public works) stipulated by EU Regulations or EU Directives.

  20. Do you have a concept of legal privilege in your jurisdiction which applies to lawyer-led investigations? If so, please provide details on the extent of that protection.

    Greek Law recognises the legal privilege and, also, provides for it protection. Lifting the legal privilege by prosecuting authorities is not done through the general provisions for accessing information considered privileged (financial, tax etc) but following different, special procedures. Legal privilege applies to anything the lawyer has known or obtained because of his/her profession. In view of this, information acquired in lawyer-led investigations are, in principle, covered by legal privilege. There is uncertainty though in respect to the procedures to be followed during lawyer-led investigations either independently or within the context of an internal audit. In case of a dispute whether some information is connected to legal privilege, there are provisions for its resolution. These procedures take effect after securing/seizing such information, so it is always important to indicate in relevant correspondence and/or documents that they contain attorney-client privilege.

  21. How much importance does your government place on tackling bribery and corruption? How do you think your jurisdiction’s approach to anti-bribery and corruption compares on an international scale?

    Combating corruption is steadily a priority in the government’s agenda partly due to obligations undertaken by the country to make necessary reforms. There is an aggressive approach towards cases of alleged corruption, often combined with excessive use of the legal instruments provided for tracing and recovering assets connected with alleged corruption acts even on thin suspicion. In many cases, there is excessive use of tax auditing and review in trying to link profits or gain with possible corruption acts. In this respect, it is quite usual in practice to have parallel proceedings (criminal investigations, tax audits and criminal tax investigations) as well as total freezing of assets even at the preliminary phases of these investigations.

    Greece has ratified all international instruments for combating corruption (see 19). It has established special enforcement agencies to investigate such acts and is consistently exchanging information with other jurisdictions. A set of procedural rules is also in place (partly deviating from the standard criminal investigation procedures) to enable speedy collection of evidence, asset securing and recovery, priority in further processing of corruption cases until referral to trial.

  22. Generally how serious are organisations in your country about preventing bribery and corruption?

    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 organizations deal with such acts realizing that detecting and exposing corruption practices help to reduce and/or eliminate market distortions and improve business practices.

    Following a series of amendments in the 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 of the market. Most medium to large scale businesses have in place an internal control program, train their employees on anti-corruption procedures on a regular basis and during the last 3-4 years more businesses are intergrading procedures for encouraging reporting of corruption (whistle-blowing).

  23. What are the biggest challenges enforcement agencies/regulators face when investigating and prosecuting cases of bribery and corruption in your jurisdiction?

    Compliance with international agreements and incorporation of related provisions in Greek Law made available a sufficient toolbox to enforcement agencies to enable effective action against bribery and corruption. Due to the fact that same changes have been ongoing for a number of years in many fields (tax, compliance, law) there is lack of co-ordination and central monitoring of these efforts. This is especially true when it comes to defining the jurisdiction of various enforcement agencies within different or parallel procedures.

    There is need to focus on certain areas of interest (depending on the indications or information available on possible misconduct) so that enforcement agencies do not exercise overlapping powers on the same subject- matter.

  24. What do you consider will be the most significant corruption-related challenges posed to businesses in your jurisdiction over the next 18 months?

    Businesses will need to promote further their compliance programs and co-operate in adopting common procedures for combating corruption. Effective compliance programs and effective internal procedures will become increasingly important given that corporate liability (as set out above) is stipulated by numerous legal provisions and the consequences may be complex. Sanctions may not only affect the financial status of a company (by imposed fines) but also its regular business (through suspension of activities or other restrictive measures).

  25. How would you improve the legal framework and process for preventing, investigating and prosecuting cases of bribery and corruption?

    There is a multitude of legal provisions in respect to procedures and enforcement agencies, which have the power to investigate acts of corruption. Apart of criminal investigations, parallel proceedings may be initiated by Regulatory Bodies or the Tax Authorities. All these proceedings may result to different types of sanctions to individuals or entities, which may be imposed independently. In this respect, the legal framework for reporting to the authorities by implicated individuals is somewhat incomplete as it does not contain provisions for suspension of other, parallel proceedings. Most importantly, there are no provisions in respect to entities that would wish to come forward and report acts of corruption to the competent authorities. Apart from the general provisions for mitigating the sanctions to be imposed there is no legal framework for leniency in respect to entities. A standard leniency procedure would make it easier on the entities to report to the authorities findings form their internal audits.