Greek shipping tycoon denies drugs charges

(Refiles this March 24, story to add context and expert comment on Greek criminal procedure)

Olympiakos Piraeus president Vangelis Marinakis addresses reporters during a presentation of a new player in Piraeus, near Athens, June 24, 2011. REUTERS/ICON/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek shipping tycoon Vangelis Marinakis, the owner of Olympiakos Piraeus and Nottingham Forest soccer teams, denied any links to drug trafficking on Saturday, a day after a Greek prosecutor brought preliminary charges against him.

The prosecutor accused Marinakis of financing and storing drug substances and setting up a criminal group to traffic and sell drugs, a judiciary source said. The matter will now be referred to an investigating magistrate, the source said.

Greece’s judicial system has several preparatory stages and the compilation of charges does not necessarily mean that an individual will face trial. The investigating magistrate could conclude that Marinakis has no case to answer.

The 50-year old shipowner denied any wrongdoing, saying that the charges were legally unfounded. He accused the country’s leftist-led government of plotting against him.”

There is not the least evidence against me,” Marinakis said in a statement posted on the Olympiakos website.

“Members of the governing coalition have persistently targeted me”, he said, adding that the results of any investigation would prove his innocence.

The government declined to comment on the case or Marinakis’ accusations. Court authorities have not made any public announcements on it, which is standard practice in Greece.

The case emerged four years ago when the Greek coastguard discovered a record two-tonne haul of drugs, mainly heroin, aboard a small tanker called Noor One and in a warehouse near Athens. A court has sentenced 15 people to prison in that case. (Full story here)

The charges were brought against Marinakis after a preliminary investigation that looked into financial transfers related to the financing of the tanker, the judiciary source said, requesting anonymity.

“In Greece, a preliminary inquiry is ordered to establish if there are sufficient indications of a crime...Once it is established there are sufficient indications then the prosecutor files charges and orders an ordinary or so-called main investigation,” said Christos Mylonopoulos, a criminal law professor at the University of Athens.”

Once the main investigation is completed, the case is referred again to the prosecutor who decides whether to submit to the chamber a proposal on acquittal or a proposal for a court hearing,” he said.

Reporting by Constantinos Georgizas; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Edmund Blair and Nick Tattersall