Greece / The Council of the State / 359/2020

Merchant importer v. Independent Authority for Public Revenue (Ministry of Finance)
Deciding body type
National Court/Tribunal
Deciding body
The Council of the State
Decision date
  • Greece / The Council of the State / 359/2020
    Key facts of the case:
    The decision at hand was reached by the plenary of the Greek Supreme Administrative Court (Council of the State – Συμβούλιο της Επικρατείας), following a decision by the referring Chamber B of the Court, in order to resolve issues related to the interpretation of the ne bis in idem principle. In accordance with the facts of the case, the appellant, a trader and importer of goods, imported in the year 2000, a large number of lighters, allegedly from Indonesia, and provided the Greek customs authorities with an invoice marked as “issued retroactively”. As a result of the special status afforded to Indonesian goods, the lighters were subject to smaller duties than if they originally came from another country. Following an audit, the customs authorities reached the conclusion that the invoice produced was false, the lighters were in fact imported from China, and the appellant had fraudulently paid less than the lawfully mandated duties. As a result, the customs authorities levied multiple fines on her, which she subsequently petitioned against before the administrative courts, citing, among others, a final decision of the Greek criminal courts which found her to be not guilty of the charges of illicit import of goods and forgery of documents. Her appeal was rejected following a fresh consideration of the facts of the case by the administrative courts, which found that she had, in fact, committed the impugned offences despite the criminal courts reaching the opposite conclusion. This is the decision complained against in the proceedings at hand.
    Key legal question raised by the Court:
    The Court was called to answer the question whether the imposition of multiple administrative fines on the appellant, multiple years after her final acquittal of illicit import and forgery charges by the Greek criminal courts, violates the ne bis in idem principle.
    Outcome of the case:
    The Court accepted the appellant’s argument that the appealed decision applied the law in a manner which violates the ne bis in idem principle, as enshrined in article 4(1) of Protocol No 7 ECHR and primary EU law. It, consequently, found that the decision should be appealed as regards its portion which relates to the levying of multiple fines, and reverted the case to Chamber B to adjudicate the issue of lost public revenue (in tax and duties). Specifically, the Court considers the administrative judge as the “natural” judge in citizens’ disputes with public authorities, such as the one at hand. Nevertheless, the legislator is not precluded from instituting criminal proceedings in addition to the administrative ones in cases where the disapprobation of the act committed renders the former appropriate, as long as the provisions of article 4(1) of Protocol No 7 ECHR and article 50 CFREU are respected. In the present case, the Court found that the two proceedings, administrative and criminal, pursue the same punitive aims, and do not concern different aspects of the same misconduct. Moreover, the two proceedings do not have a close temporal link, seen as the criminal proceedings concluded 15 years prior to the administrative trial in question, nor does the relevant legislative framework ensure that the outcomes of the criminal trial are taken into account in a manner which ensures that the overall amount of penalties imposed is proportionate.
  • Paragraphs referring to EU Charter

    Therefore, since, from the above point of view, there is no ground for double criminal prosecution and punishment of the same offense (by a criminal court and an administrative body), the legal order, in this constitutional sense, is fully in line with the fundamental principle for human rights ne bis in idem, as enshrined in the above provisions of the ECHR and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union… Because, the principle ne bis in idem, which is enshrined in the aforementioned provision of article 4 par. 1 of the 7th AP. of the ECHR, is also a general principle of European Union law (see ECR 1741/2015 and references there to the case law of the ECJ), which has now been incorporated in Article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union (2000 / C 364/01 - hereinafter referred to as the Charter) and is

    applicable in a case such as the present, as the Member States of the Union are bound by the general principles of Union law in establishing and penalizing infringements of Union customs / tax legislation (see ΣτΕ Ολομ. 1741/2015, 1887/2018 επταμ.). The above principle of EU law and article 50 of the Charter have a similar regulatory content to that of article 4 par. 1 of the 7th AP. of the ECHR (see ΣτΕ 1887/2018 heptam., 1102-1104 / 2018 heptam. and WEU major comp. 20.3.2018, C-524/15, Menci, pp. 60-62)…

  • Paragraphs referring to EU Charter (original language)

    Ως εκ τούτου, άλλωστε, καθώς δεν καταλείπεται, από την ανωτέρω άποψη, έδαφος για διπλή ποινική δίωξη και τιμωρία του αυτού αδικήματος (από ποινικό δικαστήριο και διοικητικό όργανο), η έννομη τάξη, υπό την εν λόγω συνταγματική αντίληψη, παρίσταται πλήρως εναρμονισμένη με τη θεμελιώδη για τα ανθρώπινα δικαιώματα αρχή ne bis in idem, όπως αυτή κατοχυρώνεται στις προπαρατεθείσες διατάξεις της ΕΣΔΑ και του Χάρτη Θεμελιωδών Δικαιωμάτων της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης Επειδή, η αρχή ne bis in idem, η οποία κατοχυρώνεται στην προεκτεθείσα διάταξη του άρθρου 4 παρ. 1 του 7ου Π.Π. της ΕΣΔΑ, αποτελεί, επίσης, γενική αρχή του δικαίου της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης (βλ. ΣτΕ Ολομ. 1741/2015 και τις εκεί παραπομπές στη νομολογία του ΔΕΚ), η οποία έχει πλέον ενσωματωθεί στο άρθρο 50 του Χάρτη των Θεμελιωδών Δικαιωμάτων της Ένωσης (2000/C 364/01 – στο εξής, Χάρτης) και βρίσκει πεδίο εφαρμογής σε υπόθεση όπως η παρούσα, δεδομένου ότι τα κράτη μέλη της Ένωσης δεσμεύονται από τις γενικές αρχές του ενωσιακού δικαίου κατά τη θέσπιση και επιβολή κυρώσεων για παραβάσεις της ενωσιακής τελωνειακής/φορολογικής νομοθεσίας (βλ. ΣτΕ Ολομ. 1741/2015, 1887/2018 επταμ.). Η ανωτέρω αρχή του ενωσιακού δικαίου και το άρθρο 50 του Χάρτη έχουν ανάλογο κανονιστικό περιεχόμενο με εκείνο του άρθρου 4 παρ. 1 του 7ου Π.Π. της ΕΣΔΑ (βλ. ΣτΕ 1887/2018 επταμ., 1102-1104/2018 επταμ. και ΔΕΕ μειζ. συνθ. 20.3.2018, C-524/15, Menci, σκ. 60-62) …