Jail threat to journalist in Greek tycoon's libel action

TradeWinds: will defend articles

Three British journalists are being sued in the Greek courts by a shipping magnate who is demanding more than £5m in damages.

Panagis Zissimatos is also demanding that the journalists be jailed if they repeat the allegations.

Terry Macalister, Gillian Whittaker and David Osler are named in writs served by Zissimatos on the publishers of TradeWinds and Lloyd’s List over articles about his business dealings.

In the writ served on Oslo-based shipping newspaper TradeWinds, Zissimatos seeks damages of £2.7m – of which he wants £720,000 to be paid by Greece correspondent Whittaker and £1m by Macalister, a TradeWinds contributor and now The Guardian’s industrial correspondent.

A similar writ was served on Lloyd’s List owner Informa Group and business editor Osler.

Zissimatos claims the newspapers helped to cause the collapse of his company, Adriatic Tankers Shipping, in the mid-Nineties and that since then articles, and an advertisement placed by a trade union, have inflicted a "harsh blow to my trustworthiness as a businessman and to my honour and dignity as a person and a family man".

He demands that the named journalists serve one year in jail if they repeat any of the allegations.

All the defendants will fight the case. Osler said: "We’re obviously going to mount a vigorous defence of justification and fair comment and our legal advice from Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners is that we have a very strong case."

The fight will take place on 19 September in the Greek courts, which have different libel laws and procedures to the UK. Greek libel law demands that a publication proves an allegation is true, but also that the tone of the article is appropriate.

Neither the director of the publishers nor the journalists can give evidence because defendants are not considered impartial by the Greek courts, said TradeWinds’ lawyer Nicola Thatcher of Pinsent Curtis Biddle.

Both publications were indemnified against legal action over the advert placed by the International Transport Workers Federation.

John Landells, news editor of TradeWinds, defended the coverage of Zissimatos’ business practices. He said: "The International Transport Workers Federation sought to highlight the problem of owner accountability surrounding such practices by placing an advert in TradeWinds which we accepted because it reflected the investigations of our own journalists."

Mary Stevens

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