German magazine cleared of defaming Greece

ATHENS, Greece — A Greek court dismissed defamation charges Tuesday against a German magazine that had illustrated an article on Greece’s economic crisis with a doctored photo of the Venus de Milo statue making a lewd gesture.

The 2010 Focus magazine article, headlined “Cheats in the European family,” appeared after Greece admitted it had falsified data to hide its acute economic woes, problems that ignited the whole European debt crisis.

A Greek prosecutor had charged the magazine with defamation and insulting a national symbol after complaints about the cover image, which showed the ancient love goddess Venus draped in a Greek flag and raising her middle finger.

The 2nd century B.C. marble statue — found in Greece but exhibited in the Louvre Museum in Paris — lacks arms.

The charges carried a maximum two-year prison sentence.

But the Athens court ruled that Focus had referred to acts by Greek politicians and not the country’s population in general.

“Anything other than an acquittal would have been astonishing,” Focus spokesman Jonas Grashey said in Germany. “This is a success for press freedom, though we would gladly have done without having to achieve it — because the charges were, in our eyes, a farce.”

“We are glad that the Greek constitutional state has delivered evidence of its ability to function,” he added.

It was unclear how Tuesday’s ruling in favor of the publisher and six staff members would affect a separate defamation case against six other Focus workers.

The magazine cover caused outrage in Greece, whose parliament speaker complained to the German ambassador. The affair also renewed calls in Greek media for Germany to pay billions in reparations for the brutal Nazi occupation of Greece from 1941-44.

Focus later published a cover of Venus de Milo with one arm extended begging, with the headline: “Greece — and our money!”

Athens has said it considers the matter of reparations — and the repayment of a huge loan extorted from Greece by German occupation forces in World War II — has not been settled. A foreign ministry statement Monday said Greece retains the right to raise the issue when it sees fit.

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