Two prominent members of Adelaide’s Greek community will face each other in court this month over comments made four years ago about the future of local churches.

Former president of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia (GOCSA), property developer Theo Maras, is suing former Industrial Commissioner John Lesses over what Mr Maras describes as “defamatory” statements made to GOCSA members in June 2011.

The statements, made in a newsletter and email to GOCSA members, described Mr Maras and other leaders of the organisation as “blatantly treating GOCSA members with contempt” and acting in a way that would abandon GOCSA’s independent status and align the organisation with the Holy Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

Last week the Adelaide Advertiser reported that GOCSA members feared that churches would be forced to close if GOCSA relinquished its independence.

Mr Lesses claims that Mr Maras said he “did not care if three churches closed”.

Mr Lesses is understood to have corresponded with members asking them to hold Mr Maras and others “accountable for this travesty of process” and described an annual general meeting of GOCSA as a “monumental fiasco”.

In his statement of claim, Mr Maras said as the founder of the Maras Group, “a high profile, respected and successful property investment and development group”, the statements by Mr Lesses left him “injured in his reputation and profession” and that he had “been brought into ridicule, odium and contempt”.
Court documents are reported to claim Mr Maras’ damages were aggravated by the “improper, unjustifiable and deliberate conduct of [Mr Less] … with the intention of embarrassing [Mr Maras] within the Greek community”.

Mr Maras claims the statements were defamatory and had the meaning that he was “untrustworthy” and “does not care about GOCSA churches”.

The Maras Group chief further claims that Mr Lesses edited a photograph of him shaking hands with an Archdiocese of Australia Bishop in order to convey the impression he was aligned with the national body.

“[The image] was altered to obscure the fact that the occasion was a reception at Parliament House hosted by (former) Premier [Mike] Rann in honour of the Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece,” court documents state.

In his statement of defence, Mr Lesses denies defaming Mr Maras, arguing he believed the statements to be true.

Mr Lesses has been president of GOCSA since July 2013 and claims the independence of the organisation was of “paramount” importance and that he had acted in the best interests of members.

Mr Lesses also says the statements were made under “qualified privilege at Common Law” and denied they had damaged the reputation of Mr Maras.

The case is listed for a five-day trial in the District Court starting on May 18.

Mr Maras has been an active community leader in Adelaide for many years and has numerous awards including being a Member of the Order of Australia.

Mr Lesses is a former commissioner in the South Australian and Australian Industrial Relations Commissions and is a former secretary of the United Trades and Labour Council of SA.

Source: Adelaide Advertiser