Greece and Iran: The Dark Side of the Relationship by Maria Polizoidou

  • The Iranian government, with these two cases (Kabis and Noor 1), seems to hold in its hands a bomb that can blow up the Greek economic and political system. If Greek authorities seriously investigate these cases, they will trigger a domino-effect of disclosures that could well destabilize Greece’s government.

  • Iran can blackmail and manipulate its political influence inside Greece, or Iran can use its ability to destabilize a member of NATO and Eurozone, Greece, to strengthen its international position.

As Sunnis and Shiites are fighting for regional hegemony in the Middle East — Syria, Yemen — Greece, as geographical gate for Europe and the Balkans, is a trophy country for the Iranian regime. In recent years, the Iranians have been exploiting the corrupt establishment’s thirst for money. Through drug dealing and oil smuggling, Iran seems to be trying to buy political influence and access to the Greek media. Well-informed diplomatic sources say that the Iranian Embassy in Athens is extremely active in Greece’s political and economic life behind the scenes.

Until now, the Greek political and economic regime, after the junta in 1974, had always been extremely friendly to Sunni political Islam. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Greek regime sided with Iraq. Andreas Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece, was a close friend and supporter of the PLO and its chairman, Yasser Arafat. Greek businessmen and media owners always had close economic relationships with the Gulf States’ petrodollar business, and lobbying by Greek ship-owners, who carry Arab oil to international markets, always favored Sunni Arabs.

The influence of Sunni Islam in Greece is also large in the political and economic systems — many times stronger than in other countries of the European Union, with the Greek media always on the side of the Palestinians, Hezbollah and in recent years, many did not hide their sympathy for Hamas.

Dimitris Kabis, a professor at the University of Piraeus and recently a ship-owner — as president of Empire Shipping Limited — seems to be the protagonist in a network of oil-smuggling, arms-dealing and lobbying in Greece for the Iranian regime.

In March 2013, the US froze Kabis’s accounts, after accusing him of violating the US and EU sanctions on Iran, by bringing oil from Iran to China.

Dimitris Kabis was accused by the US that, with $500 million from Iran, he bought eight tankers for the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC). Each of the eight tankers carried oil worth $200 million — per shipment — to China, in violation of the sanctions imposed on Tehran. In 2014, the NITC reportedly returned five of the eight tankers, but he illegally sold the remaining three in India and Bangladesh and received $100 million, which he apparently embezzled from the Iranian government.

Kabis, with the Iranian funds and a network of 20 Greek businessmen, for years supplied Iran with pharmaceuticals, weapons, high-technology products, money-laundering services and everything else Tehran needed. Among the Greek businessmen, at least one was confirmed as a TV station owner who has close relationships with Kabis.

Kabis seems to have violated an agreement signed by him and the NITC, and in July was arrested in Tehran and sent to prison. Although Tehran’s “special” court acquitted him, the Iranian seized took his passport. Kabis now resides in the Greek Embassy in Tehran, but does not have the necessary documents to return to Greece. That is why he sent a letter to the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs to help him come back.

American authorities seem to have knowledge of Greek businessmen cooperating with Kabis. Kabis, in turn, and the Tehran regime, have all the names belonging to the network that took part in the corrupt Greek scheme, and is making the Greek economic establishment nervous. After the JCPOA agreement — the “Iran nuclear deal” with five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) — which led to the lifting of most of the sanctions against Tehran — in July 2015, the US government demanded that Iran give them the all names in Kabis’s network.

The first time there was a reference to smuggled oil from Iran showed up in Greece’s Intelligence Services files about the Greek-owned ship, the “Noor 1”.

The Noor 1 apparently smuggled 18 tons of oil and two tons of Iranian heroin. The heroin was then distributed throughout Europe. The Noor 1 case was solved, and led to perpetrators’ arrests, with the cooperation of the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Greek authorities. The arrests of the participants and the investigations showed that behind the Noor 1 case were indications that the masterminds were Greek businessmen with social status and access to the media.

The Noor 1 case has a lot of puzzle pieces, such as the relationship, if any, between the actions of those who are involved and the traffickers of the two tons of heroin. Possible connections were illuminated when some of the trial judges’ lives were threatened, and the lives of their relatives. The court’s president resigned out of fear, she said, for herself and her family. Terrorists sent another judge in the same trial a book packed with razor blades and explosives.

In court, only two people were found guilty of directing a criminal organization and transporting the heroin. Most of the crew were found not guilty, and just three of the defendants were convicted of simply being accessories to drug dealing. Usually, conventional drug dealers do not have the power to prevent a full-scale investigation of a case, or to threaten judges or send bombs. It would seem that only people with power inside the Greek establishment could do that, because only those people have access to the Greek Department of Justice, the Ministry of Citizen Protection and the Greek Intelligence Services — all of which recorded conversations between the masterminds and those who carried out the plan.

The media apparently put a lot of pressure on the establishment for a full-scale investigation — but nothing happened. The people involved appear untouchable. In this case, again, are Greek media owners offering the Iranians special protection for illegal activities?

The Greek coalition of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos also made another unusual decision. The Greek government, famous for its blind obedience to decisions by the EU, nevertheless, for the first time decided to ignore the organization. When the EU voted to place sanctions on Iran’s Bank Saderat Iran (BSI), the Greek coalition vetoed the EU’s decision.

BSI evidently has close economic ties to terrorism. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that BSI was being cut off from all access to the U.S. financial system, direct or indirect, because it was funding Hezbollah, Hamas and other organizations that Washington has designated as terrorist.

After the JCPOA agreement in July 2015, the Saderat Bank was one of the three banks that remained on the European Union’s sanctions list. For Washington, the sanctions against the bank last as long as Iran finances terrorism.

Greece was the only country to oppose the ban to extend the sanctions on BSI, to prevent the bank from interacting with Europe’s financial system — despite US appeals to allow the continuation of the sanctions. Senior officials of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated to the Wall Street Journal, that “there were very strict instructions from Athens to block the sanctions.”

In early 2016, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, was among the first Western leaders who led a large business delegation to Tehran, after the economic sanctions were lifted.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meets with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, on February 8, 2016. (Image source: Office of the Supreme Leader)

Circles in the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responding to WSJ‘s report, stated:

“The rule of law applies in Greece, an EU member-state that ought also to act as a community of law. Greece defends the rule of law in a fragile region where there is unrest, conflict and illegal activity.”

“The Court decision against the European Council that judged – at first instance in May 2013 and at second instance last April – the sanctions against Saderat bank to be illegal, was not the decision of a national court, nor an Iranian court or a neutral court. It was the decision of a European court, the European Court of Justice. If we, as the EU, do not enforce judicial decisions, how will we convince the world that we respect the rule of law and that we do not apply double standards?”

The Iranian government, with these two cases (Kabis and Noor 1) seems to hold in its hands a bomb that can blow up the Greek economic and political system. If Greek authorities seriously investigate these cases, they will trigger a domino-effect of disclosures that could well destabilize the Greece’s government. Iran can blackmail and negotiate its political influence inside Greece, or Iran can use its ability to destabilize a member of NATO and Eurozone, Greece, to strengthen its international position.

It is absolutely sure that the whistle-blowers, in order to have legal amnesty, will reveal to the judicial authorities and Greek people the dirty world of political and economic elites damaging Greece’s government in an irreversible way.

Greece borders two worlds: The Islamic world and the Jewish world. The Islamic world seems to have been using less than lily-white means to control the country through corrupt elites. By contrast, the Jewish world, through Israel’s Embassy in Athens, is trying to help Greek youth and society to prosper, by sharing know-how for business startups and new technologies.

Greek society must find the will, and the political means, to get rid of the corrupt establishment. There is no other way to save itself from the economic meltdown and the unbelievable poverty. It is now or never.

Maria Polizoidou, a reporter, broadcast journalist, and consultant on international and foreign affairs, is based in Greece.

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