Editor acquitted of charges over printing Swiss bank list


ATHENS – A magazine publisher has been acquitted of charges that he breached privacy laws by printing a list allegedly naming some 2,000 wealthy Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland.

The list has touched off a fierce debate in the nearly bankrupt country after governments failed to use it to check for possible tax-evasion by rich depositors.

The Athens misdemeanours court gave no reason for its verdict on Mr Vaxevanis yesterday.

The ruling followed a closely watched trial which supporters of Mr Vaxevanis had portrayed as a test of Greek press freedom.

“This decision . . . allows journalists to do their job,” said Mr Vaxevanis, the publisher of Hot Doc magazine.

He was facing up to two years in jail if convicted of breaking data privacy laws. The case touched a nerve in near-bankrupt Greece, where rampant tax evasion is undermining a struggle to cut public costs and raise revenue under an EU-International Monetary Fund bailout deal.

His speedy arrest and trial following publication of the list at the weekend has enraged many in Greece, who were already furious over consecutive governments’ failure to crack down on a rich elite while years of recession have wiped out one-fifth of economic output and hammered middle class living standards.

Mr Vaxevanis, editor of the Hot Doc weekly, was surrounded by journalists and other supporters who packed the Athens courtroom as his lawyers began their defence.

They argued that the prosecution had charged him without any of those on the list having filed a complaint about privacy violation, a rare occurrence in a freedom of speech or defamation case in Greece. Mr Vaxevanis called the trial “targeted and vengeful”.

“There isn’t the slightest bit of evidence to support the charges,” he said ahead of being acquitted.

“Obviously there are political motives. You see most of the names on the list are friends of the political system.” He has said an anonymous source gave him the so-called “Lagarde list”, which IMF head Christine Lagarde handed to authorities in several EU countries in 2010 when she was French finance minister.

Another newspaper, the daily Ta Nea, devoted 10 pages to the 2,059 names, which include several politicians as well as businessmen, shipping magnates, doctors, lawyers and housewives.

It said the accounts had held about €2 billion until 2007, but made clear there was no evidence any had broken tax evasion laws.

Prime minister Antonis Samaras’s government has not commented on the accuracy of the list, which Greek officials say was stolen by a former employee of HSBC bank. Two former finance ministers have acknowledged they had copies of the list. According to an EU report last year, Greece has about €60 billion in unpaid taxes, an amount equal to roughly one-quarter of its economy and almost one-sixth of its debt.

Greece has so far failed to convict any big names of tax evasion, further alienating voters from a political class that promised to force wealthy avoiders to share some of the debt crisis pain. – (PA, Reuters)