Warrant out for Greek journalist over leak of politicians’ alleged tax evasion
Greek prosecutors have issued a warrant for the arrest of one of the country’s top journalists, after his publication Hot Doc released the so-called ‘Lagarde list’ containing the names of some 2,000 Greeks with funds hidden in Swiss bank accounts.
Greek police aim to detain Kostas Vaxevanis, the owner and editor of Hot Doc, for alleged privacy violations from publishing the list of names dated to 2007. “Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the list in their hands, they are trying to arrest the truth and free journalism,” Vaxevanis said in an interview published online.
The speaker of the Greek Parliament, several Finance Ministry employees and a number of business leaders all reportedly had Swiss HSBC bank accounts.
The Hot Doc article revealed that data matched that of Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister who in 2010 provided her Greek counterpart a list of names of those alleged to have large sums of money stashed away in Swiss banks.
Citing privacy concerns for individuals on the list, Hot Doc said it had redacted exact bank balance figures, but added that some accounts contained as much as 500 million euros.
The Greek government took no action at the emergence of the first ‘Lagarde list.’ Tax evasion has become a hotly contested issue, as the country’s parliament is expected to vote on a new 13.5 billion euro austerity package that most Greeks oppose.
On Friday, the office of former Prime Minister George Papandreou denied accusations that he knew about the list, after a member of the opposition Syriza party asserted that Papandreou had helped arrange a meeting with the chief of the Geneva HSBC branch when he was in power.
Last week, former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said that he had asked the country’s financial crimes unit to investigate about 20 Greeks suspected of maintaining large holdings in Geneva, after French authorities forwarded him the list in 2010. He also claimed that the Finance Ministry’s legal adviser had told him that using the list as evidence was problematic, since an HSBC employee had illegally leaked it.
International lenders have long insisted that Greece investigate those suspected of tax evasion before the country be deemed eligible for further bailouts.
The Hot Doc report did not make specific accusations of money laundering. The publication pointed out that it was legal to own a Swiss bank account, but implied that the Greek government has done little to investigate the matter.
Giorgos Voulgarakis, the speaker of parliament from Mr. Samaras’s center-right New Democracy Party, was quick to deny the accusations and responded by accusing Hot Doc of slander. According to the magazine, Voulgarakis’ HSBC deposits dating back to 2003 are not on the speaker’s tax declarations.
A massive social media campaign is now underway asking that all charges against Vaxevanis for his role in the ‘Lagarde list’ leak be dropped.