© Orestis Panagiotou/EPAKostas Vaxevanis, editor of Hot Doc magazine, was cleared of privacy breach for publishing the names of 2,000 suspected tax evaders.
Greece is undergoing a crisis of democracy with press censorship at its centre, says the magazine editor in the middle of the media storm that has engulfed Athens. Speaking to the Guardian a day after being cleared of breaching privacy laws, Kostas Vaxevanis said Greece was ruled by a clique of corrupt politicians in thrall to businessmen who owned - and gagged - the media.

"There's a huge problem in Greece, a problem of democracy and essence," he said in his fifth-floor office, surrounded by copies of Hot Doc, the investigative magazine that last week published the names of more than 2,000 high-earning Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland. "The country is governed by a poisonous combination of politicians, businessmen and journalists who cover one another's backs. Every day laws are changed, or new laws are voted in, to legitimise illegal deeds."

With a substantial chunk of the Greek media owned by magnates or financed by banks, journalists were in effect silenced. "It's tragic. Greeks only ever learn half the truth and that is worse than lies because it has the effect of creating impressions," he said.

"Had it not been for the foreign media taking such an interest in my own story, it would have been buried. With few exceptions, hardly any of the Greek media bothered to report that I was acquitted, when CNN and the BBC were breaking into their news broadcasts to do so. The international media is playing the role it played during the [1967-74] dictatorship, when Greeks would listen to foreign outlets to find out what was really going on in this country."

The 46-year-old, who set up Hot Doc with โ‚ฌ5,000 of his own money six months ago, said that while independent journalism was difficult in Greece, his vindication had been a victory for freedom of the press and a justice system also besmirched by accusations of corruption.

Politicians had had more than two years to act on the list, handed to Greek authorities by the IMF head, Christine Lagarde, who was then French finance minister, but had not investigated it.

"Lagarde gave similar lists to Germany, France, Spain and Italy, and in each of those countries it was acted on and revenues in turn were accrued. Here, they are constantly saying they will deal with tax evasion, because it is the root of our country's economic problems, and they did absolutely nothing because there are people on the list who are friends of those in power," he said.

Vowing to tackle the establishment "because that is what Greeks want," Vaxevanis insisted Hot Doc would continue unearthing scandals. "The political elite have got used to the mainstream press not annoying them, but investigation is what we do," he said, looking tired, if relieved, after several sleepless nights.

"I don't think the decision to bring me before the court was the work of an overzealous prosecutor. I think it was very deliberate and very vindictive.

"No one knew my whereabouts the day I was arrested and suddenly there were 50 state security operatives surrounding the house, which would suggest my phone was being monitored. When the prosecutor came, he didn't even have a proper arrest warrant. But what I will never forget is how so many of the police who were present that day actually congratulated me for doing what I had done."