As an investigative reporter covering organized crime in Greece, Giorgos Karaivaz would have had every reason to fear his life would wind up like so many of those he wrote about: an unsolved murder.
He had finished a regular appearance on an Athens TV show, one of his many jobs over the years as perhaps the country’s foremost crime journalist, when, as he stepped out of his car outside his home, was shot 10 times.
Two attackers he didn’t see rolled up behind him on a motor scooter, a man on the rear seat firing from the back then – in the middle of the afternoon with people about – calmly got off, walked over to Karaivaz, who lay bleeding on the sidewalk, and fired two final shots to the head.
That was April 9 and while an investigation is ongoing, few details have been released so far. The police has stated the murder bears hallmarks of an organized crime hit while it remains unknown if he was killed in personal vendetta or for another reason.
Police were going through stories on his blog www.bloko.gr and the rest of his work in search for clues.
Karaivaz was known to have close personal and professional relationships with organized crime figures, and while he reported death threats, he shunned protection, having written about police corruption.
“He frequently wrote extensive revealing articles which depicted links between organized crime and public corruption and it clearly appeared that he knew leading characters involved in those stories,” Ioannis Michaletos, Research Coordinator for Greece at Balkanalysis, who covers organized crime, told Blueprint for Free Speech.
There were witnesses, municipal workers in a park near Karaivaz’s home. “Everything happened so quickly, it took 15 seconds,” said one of them, reported Deutsche Welle.
Police said Karaivaz was shot with a “clean” 9-millimeter pistol – a gun unknown to them, indicating professionals at work but haven’t speculated or released details since the killing.
The murder happened as Greece was beginning to ease out of a long lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 – and another investigative journalist, Kostas Vaxevanis later saying he was getting death threats, diverting attention.
But the killing has already subsided in headlines as the probe goes on behind the scenes after it sparked an immediate outcry from journalist groups and the European Union.
European Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said not long before the murder that the bloc would come up with some kind of action plan, to help journalists under siege.
“Given the difficult situation, our first priority is to improve the safety of journalists,” she said.
Jamie Wiseman, Advocacy Officer for the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) told Blueprint: “All the evidence is pointing to that it was a Mafia attack … it’s hard to come to conclusions right now. Journalists are always a target of Mafia groups … this is a risky and danger prone area,”
“We can’t say 100 percent he was silenced to stop other journalists snooping around just yet. We have to give the police a little more time to investigate and establish the motive,” he said.
The IPI had initially said that the killing sent “shockwaves through Europe,” especially with the masterminds behind the murders of investigative journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia on Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia still not brought to justice.
Effie Lambropoulou, Professor of Criminology at Panteion University in Athens told Blueprint that, “The murder of Karaivaz is a manifestation of the development of organized crime in Greece, a development of at least 20 years … it is a declaration of the exchange of knowledge and the networking of the domestic organized crime with mobs from the Balkan countries and the former Soviet Union.”
She said Greece’s national intelligence agency EYP believed he was close with organized crime and knew about police corruption.
“It means that the authorities know and the police have the mechanism to find its corrupt members as long as they want to do so,” but that the killers are likely in another country.
Michaletos said that over the past four years there have been some 30 unsolved “professional hits” that he said all revolve around infights between rival criminal cartels as well as harassments and bombings, with Karaivaz looking them.
He said that there’s an “explosive mixture” in Greece linking organized crime with corruption – the key areas Karaivaz reported on – and that the journalist directly or indirectly “knew about it and he became a ‘liability’ to those afraid of exposure.
Other media freedom groups joined IPI and Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – as well as Blueprint – in urging Greek authorities to find the killers and the reason for the murder.
But the professional nature of his murder and the fact he was investigating organized crime makes it “very probable,” Pavol Szalai, head of the EU/Balkans desk at RSF told the British newspaper The Guardian.
“Europe remains the safest place in the world to be a journalist, but the pressures on press freedoms – and the risks – are mounting,” he said, including in Greece.
In July, 2020, a tabloid newspaper editor, Stefanos Chios, was shot in the neck and chest by a hooded man but survived, while the attacker fled.
That, and the murder of Karaivaz, saw Greece’s media freedom record plummet in rankings by Reporters Without Borders (RSF.)
The killing of Karaivaz was the first of a journalist in Greece in almost 11 years, since investigative reporter Sokratis Giolias was shot 16 times with guns linked to the terror group Sect of Revolutionaries, the perpetrators never found, colleagues saying he was about to publish a report on corruption.
Almost immediately after the murder of Karaivaz, the Athens Journalists’ Union (ESHEA) said it wouldn’t stop reporters from doing their jobs in what has become a dangerous profession.
Union President Maria Antoniadou stated that, “Those who believe that this is a way to silence journalists are mistaken,” adding its 6,099 members “will continue to investigate. No one will stop journalists from working in Greece”.
Lambropoulou said “I don’t know if it is a matter of payoff for something he has done or for keeping him quiet,” adding that, “I don’t think that journalists in Greece have anything to be afraid of if they follow the ethics and standards of their profession, unless they are involved with organized crime or blackmail.”
But whomever ordered the killing of Karaivaz – and why – still remains a mystery as police noted it was well planned and that the killer’s gun likely was muffled with a silencer, which worked.