All main international anti-bribery and anti-corruption conventions have been ratified by Greece:
UN Convention Against Corruption (Law 3666/2008); UN Convention Against Corruption (Law 3666/2008);
UN Convention Against Corruption (Law the Corruption Convention of the Council of Europe and its Additional Protocol (Law 3560/2007);
the Civil Law Convention against Corruption of the Council of Europe (Law 2957/2001);
the EU Convention on the Protection of the Financial Interests of the European Communities (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 25 June 1997) (Law 2802/2000);
The Greek Criminal Code (GCC) (Articles 159–159A and 235–238), as well as the anti-money laundering legislation (Law 4557/2018), contain the primary anti-bribery and anti-corruption measures.
The case law of the Greek Supreme Court (Areios Pagos) may be used to interpret Greek criminal statutes, however it is not binding. Moreover, over the years, a number of enforcement authorities and regulatory bodies have released guidelines on anti-corruption regulation, best practices, and signals of transaction irregularity, among other things. 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.
In Greece, a new criminal code and a new criminal procedure code went into effect on July 1, 2019. Both are the outcome of a decade of work by three law commissions whose membership has changed over time. The goal of the new criminal code is to modernize and streamline the country’s essential criminal laws. In this connection, it repeals a number of obsolete or minor offenses from the old code, which dates back to 1950, and replaces them with new offenses that better meet current concerns, such as risky driving or broad subsidies fraud.
The new code establishes five offenses in the area of bribery. There are, for example, various provisions on:
The nature of the offenses, the perpetrator’s capacity, and the conduct for which the bribery happened all influence the penalties. Passive bribery in the public sector is treated more harshly under the code, although active bribery is a more serious offense when the bribed individual is a politician or a judge, rather than a regular public official. Furthermore, bribery for criminal activity is punished more harshly than bribes to expedite legal processes (so-called “grease” payments).
On this premise, active bribery involving a politician, a state officer, a judge, or an arbitrator is classed as a felony punishable by a custodial sentence of up to ten years in prison. Bribery for unlawful conduct is a felony punishable by five to eight years in jail if the recipient is an ordinary public employee, but bribery for legitimate activities is a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison or a monetary penalty.
Influence peddling and bribery in the private sector are likewise misdemeanors punishable by up to five years in prison.
It’s worth noting that sentences of more than three years must be completed entirely or partially in jail. This is a key difference between the new code and the old one, which allowed for the suspension or conversion of sentences of up to five years in prison.
Overall, the new law is more rational and proportional in its sanctions, and it is no less efficient than the old one, which was rife with both disproportionate and nominal sentences. In circumstances where the Greek state was the victim, the former rule allowed for life imprisonment for individuals convicted of bribery. The law was passed by parliament during tumultuous times, months after the end of a civil war between communist-led rebels and the National Army, and against the backdrop of a major contraband scandal involving coastguard officers, merchants, and diplomats, which had rocked the country. The law’s repeal was long overdue since it was incompatible with the current criminal justice system’s hierarchy of values and ran counter to the fundamental concept of proportionality stated in Article 49(3) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Indeed, under a liberal legal system, life sentences should be reserved for the most serious crimes, such as murder, rather than financial offenses.
It’s worth mentioning that under Greek law, anyone who engages in active bribery is usually also held liable for money laundering. Indeed, according to established domestic case law, the act of paying bribes through the financial system is regarded money laundering, not only for the bribe recipient, but also for the bribe giver. In terms of punishment, this means that a person who engages in active bribery is likely to face charges of money laundering, which carries a potential sentence of five to 15 years in prison. Even if the predicate offence (bribery or other) is time-barred, money laundering can be prosecuted. Furthermore, in cases where the bribed public official commits an illegal act in exchange for the bribe, the person who bribed them is usually held liable for the crime’s instigation, which carries an additional significant penalty.
Bribery in the public sector, as defined by Articles 235 and 236 of the Greek Criminal Code (GCC), is the act of giving (or receiving) or promising (or accepting) undue benefits or gain to/from a public official, either directly or through third parties or intermediaries, for performing or omitting an act in the course of or against one’s duties. The public official’s act may be completed, or is expected to be completed, in the future. The offender must act with malice (as opposed to with negligence). Bribery in the public sector, both active and passive, is punishable by imprisonment ranging from ten days to fifteen years, depending on whether the conduct for which the bribe was given was in the course of or against the public official’s duty.
Bribery of judges is covered by Article 237 of the GCC, which includes both active and passive bribery of such individuals. Bribery of judges carries a sentence of five to fifteen years in jail. The offender must act with malice (as opposed to with negligence). Company executives or anyone else with decision-making or supervisory authority who fails to prevent active bribery of court authorities via negligence is subject to a sentence of 10 days to five years in jail.
Articles 159 and 159A of the GCC define the offences of active and passive bribery of political officials, such as the prime minister, ministers, heads of municipal regions (prefects and mayors), and other officials, including members of the European Parliament and the European Commission. These Articles address the act of promising/accepting illicit benefits in exchange for doing or not doing something, as well as abstaining from voting, voting in a specific way, or supporting a specific resolution. The offender must act with malice (as opposed to with negligence). These offenses carry sentences ranging from five to fifteen years in jail. Executives of companies, as well as anybody else with decision-making or supervisory authority, who fail to prevent active political bribery through carelessness are sentenced to prison for 10 days to five years.
A person entrusted with the exercise of tasks directly related to the state or public law bodies is defined as a “public official” in Article 13 of the GCC. Articles 159 paragraph 4, 159A paragraph 4, 235 paragraph 5, and 236 paragraph 4 of the GCC, on the other hand, broaden the above-mentioned definition to include those who hold public office permanently or temporarily in any capacity or status in:
officers or other employees of any international or transnational organization in which Greece participates, as well as any individual with the authority to act on their behalf;
members of international or transnational organizations of which Greece is a member’s parliamentary assembly;
persons who have judicial or arbitral authority in international courts where Greece is a participant;
anyone in a foreign country’s public office or service, including judges, jurors, and arbitrators; and
Members of other countries’ parliaments or assemblies of local governments