Greek journalist to face court over leaked 'Lagarde list'
A PROMINENT Greek journalist is due to appear in court today on charges of violating personal data, two days after the news magazine published a leaked list of Greek residents with accounts in a Swiss bank.
Investigative reporter Kostas Vaxevanis, whose HotDoc magazine in a special issue published the names of 2,059 Greek account holders at a HSBC branch in Geneva, was arrested in the northern suburbs of Athens yesterday, minutes after he had tweeted his whereabouts and challenged police waiting outside to pick him up.
He was released three hours later, to the cheers of waiting supporters.
The list has been the subject of intense political controversy since its existence was revealed at the beginning of this month and after it emerged that two former finance ministers under former Pasok prime minister George Papandreou – George Papaconstantinou and his successor Evangelos Venizelos – failed to push the revenue authorities to comb it for tax evaders.
Nicknamed the Lagarde list, it was handed by the then French finance minister Christine Lagarde to her Greek counterpart, Mr Papaconstantinou, in late 2010 to aid Greece in combating tax evasion.
The French authorities had extracted the Greek names from a list of over 20,000 account holders it had obtained from Hervé Falciani, a former computer specialist at HSBC whom the bank accuses of stealing clients’ records in 2006 and 2007.
Mr Papaconstantinou told parliament’s transparency committee last week that he was advised that the data could not be used because of its illegal origins. His successor to the finance ministry, Evangelos Venizelos, was of the same opinion and kept a copy of the list in his office until a month ago.
The total amount of Greek deposits at the HSBC branch is reportedly over €2 billion. The HotDoc list did not detail the deposits of each account holder.
Mr Vaxevanis stressed that the inclusion of individuals on the list “did not mean they were guilty of anything or suspects for tax evasion. Some people had legally moved their deposits abroad. Others, though, had transferred money they had stolen. To which category they belong is up to the justice system to decide.”
Among the names is Yiorgos Voulgarakis, three times a New Democracy minister from 2004 to 2008. The bank data suggests that the former MP and his wife own an offshore company registered in Liberia, which he denies. Mr Voulgarakis described his inclusion on the list as “disinformation” and “mudslinging”.
Others listed include Stavros Papastavros, an adviser to prime minister Antonis Samaras; media magnates Yiorgos and Fotis Bobalas, whose companies own the Ethnos newspaper and the biggest share in Mega, Greece’s largest private television station; and oligarch Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, who is facing criminal charges in relation to the embezzlement of €700 million.
Speaking to reporters after his release yesterday, Mr Vaxevanis said the real crime was the failure of two finance ministers to check the list for tax dodgers.