European rights watchdog: Greece needs to do more to counter bribery

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece has toughened laws against bribery offences but more work is needed to restore the ability of its criminal justice system to counter corruption, Europe's main rights watchdog said on Tuesday.

In June, Greece downgraded bribery of public officials from a felony to a misdemeanour, softening sanctions for such crimes. The move prompted strong disapproval from the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

That criticism led to Greece's reintroduction of stronger criminal legislation on bribery offences in November.

The Council of Europe is the continent's main human rights watchdog, and GRECO said on Tuesday that it was still concerned June's downgrading would have "longstanding retroactive consequences" as corruption crimes by public officials committed before November would still be considered misdemeanours.

In a statement, GRECO said a new feature of the criminal legislation allowing prosecutors to abstain from prosecuting misdemeanours punishable with up to a three-year imprisonment might weaken the fight against corruption and money laundering.

It urged Greek authorities to "strictly limit the scope of corruption offences that can be subject to abstention of prosecution, by ensuring that this can be applied only in exceptional, minor cases of corruption offences".

GRECO urged Greece to comply with international standards against money laundering and combating financing of terrorism, "in relation to a recent initiative to amend the money-laundering legislation".


(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Mark Heinrich)