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Greek court rules deliberations in suit against Reuters invalid

A man walks out of a Piraeus bank branch in central Athens July 16, 2012. REUTERS/John Kolesidis
A man walks out of a Piraeus bank branch in central Athens July 16, 2012. REUTERS/John Kolesidis

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek court has ruled deliberations in a lawsuit by Piraeus Bank against Reuters over a story it published were inadmissible on technical grounds.

The ruling, obtained by Reuters on Thursday, also postponed deliberations against a second defendant in the case - reporter Stephen Grey who wrote the article.

Piraeus Bank last year sought damages of 50 million euros when it sued the news agency and Grey over a story on property deals between the bank and companies linked to the family of its non-executive chairman.

In the lawsuit it accused Reuters of malicious defamation and of wishing "to harm the entire Greek banking system."

Reuters is a unit of Thomson Reuters Corp.

The ruling said it was not clear whether the right legal entity had been convoked in the case against Thomson Reuters Corp. since several companies with similar names were headquartered in London and New York.

"It has not been determined which company was notified and it has in no case been proven that the defendant was legally summoned to appear and therefore, in line with above reasoning, the discussion over the lawsuit must be declared inadmissible regarding the first defendant," the ruling said.

Piraeus Bank in an emailed statement said: "We acknowledge the Athens Court's announcement of yesterday, and that the Court expressed no judgment on the substance of the case. A ruling on the litigation is therefore still pending."

Reuters Global Head of Communications, Barb Burg, said: "The Court dismissed the bank's case on a technicality, because the bank failed to properly bring Reuters into the case. Equally important, however, the bank has not proven its case against Reuters or that the article at issue contained any falsehoods or inaccuracies. We continue to stand by our reporting."

The Reuters special report, headlined "A Greek banker's secret property deals" and published on Apr. 2, PDF version: http://link.reuters.com/nun47s], reported Piraeus had rented at least seven properties that were owned by a series of private investment companies directed among others by the wife and two children of the bank's non-executive chairman, Michalis Sallas, and financed by Piraeus bank loans.

The article was based on a study by Reuters of Greek corporate records and company statements, documents filed in Greek land registries and interviews with legal, accounting and property experts.

Prior to publication, Piraeus and Sallas declined to answer questions about the deals, which had not been declared to shareholders.

The lawsuit said that the article's publication caused the bank's shares to tumble 14.5 percent, representing a loss to the bank at the time of 46 million euros. The shares had more than recovered their value a week later before declining again.

(Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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