George Tragkas was a prominent journalist who passed away in December 2021. The post-mortem discovery of his colossal wealth has sparked public controversy on the role and power of journalists in the country
A vocal Eurosceptic with ultrapatriotic views, George Tragkas was regarded as one of Greece's most influential populist voices. The veteran reporter would speak up against powerful people and institutions, whom he would often accuse of being involved in conspiracies aimed at undermining the country and its people.
During the notorious “era of the loan memoranda” amid deep financial crisis, Tragkas would be a strong advocate of Greece’s return to the drachma. His verbal attacks to then-chancellor Angela Merkel over Europe’s financial policies earned him a 25,000 Euro fine from the National Council for Radio and Television of Greece, but also a cover picture in Germany’s Bild magazine as the face of the “anti-German climate in Greece”.
During the pandemic, he became a vocal supporter of the anti-vaccination movement in the country claiming that the virus did not exist. He died in December 2021 due to Covid-19 complications.
A few months after his death, the local media reported on the adventurous recovery of the late journalist’s 15-page handwritten will, disclosing mind-blowing assets, consisting of deposits in banks estimated at millions of Euros, gold bars, and real estate worth many million Euros in Greece, Europe, and the USA.
The pictures of Tragkas’ luxurious properties in Monte Carlo, Nice, and Manhattan clashed with his public image as the “Robin Hood” of Greek journalism. The announcement that Tragka’s fortune had been seized by the Greek authorities was the cherry on top.
As it was later revealed, an investigation had been launched three months prior to Tragkas’ death; the authorities had reacted to an anonymous complaint received, but also upon noticing a series of transactions that seemed incompatible with the amount of income that the journalist declared. A 60-page report issued by the Anti-Money Laundering Authority concluded that the journalist’s assets might be the product of unlawful activities.
In light of these developments, some local journalists began to portray the once respected reporter as a blackmailer who was feared by many due to the information that he had access to.
Although he had started his career as a sports columnist in Athens, Tragkas had become popular in 1988, while covering the health condition of former prime minister Andreas Papandreou, who was hospitalised in London.
Tragkas’ sarcastic comments on Papandreou’s new, much younger partner, stewardess Dimitra Liani, had led to him getting attacked and sued by people of the premier’s entourage. This episode had then led Tragkas to cultivate an image as an outspoken folk hero who was determined enough to expose other people’s scandals and corruption.
Tragkas gradually gained immense power and influence. From being the editor-in-chief of various newspapers, he moved on to setting up his own radio station and Internet website, publishing his personal magazine and even founding the Free People right-wing political party.
In 2008, the publication of a list containing the amounts of money spent by the government for advertisement purposes on several media outlets showed that Tragkas’ newspaper had been the largest recipient of public funds, despite its comparatively very small circulation and impact. This sign of favouritism would be followed by other incidents.
Tragkas’ name had been in the infamous Lagarde list leaked by journalist Kostas Vaxevanis in his investigative magazine Hot Doc. The list contained the names of over 2,000 potential tax offenders from Greece with undeclared accounts at Swiss HSBC bank's Geneva branch. Similar lists, allegedly given by former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to other European countries to help them tackle tax evasion, had triggered immediate and intense investigations with visible results.
In Greece, however, the list had been treated as stolen data and kept as secret for two years; former Finance Minister George Papakonstantinou had even been accused of deliberately failing to act. The fact that Vaxevanis decided to publish the list eventually led to his persecution, in what became one of the most iconic cases of press censorship in Greece.
The ongoing investigation on Tragka’s assets is expected to shed light not only on the obvious question of how an ordinary journalist comes to own millions of Euros, but also on the circumstances that grant such immense power to a single reporter, enabling him to blackmail people, manipulate institutions, and deceive the public opinion.
Tragka’s case epitomises many of the negative stereotypes that the local society has associated journalists with; it further consolidates and exemplifies Greek people’s reported mistrust in the media. A post-mortem investigation on corruption means that, no matter the result, he will remain unpunished.
Even under these conditions, getting to the bottom of things is vital if Greek people are to rebuild trust in the institution and practice of journalism.
|This publication was produced within the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), co-funded by the European Commission. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa and its partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.|
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