Angered that his party’s leader, who, as a former finance minister, failed to act on a list of 2,000 Greeks with 1.5 billion euros ($1.93 billion) in deposits in a Swiss bank to check for possible tax evasion, Yiannis Ragousis, a prominent PASOK Socialist minister has bolted from the party.
Ragousis said he was leaving because he was disappointed in his leader, Evangelos Venizelos, who earlier this week turned over the list to government officials. The names had been on a CD given to former finance minister George Papaconstantinou by his French colleague at the time, Christine Lagarde, who has become the head of the IMF, one of the Troika members putting up $325 billion in two bailouts to keep Greece from defaulting.
Papaconstantinou said the CD had gone missing after it was passed on to the financial crimes squad SDOE, prompting current Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras to say he’d find it, but then Venizelos stepped up and presented a memory stick he said had the names. Venizelos had defended his decision not to use the information because it was unlawfully obtained, but Lagarde said it could have been properly used as an instrument to determine whether there had been any tax evasion.
The news came as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners – Venizelos and Democratic Left head Fotis Kouvelis – have agreed on a $17.4 billion to cut spending again and raise taxes in another austerity program while tax evaders who owe the country some $70 billion have largely escaped prosecution.
Samaras is also trying to fend off another potential scandal, that SDOE has another list, this one of 33 politicians with large bank accounts for which they can’t account. That led the President of the Parliament and one of Samaras’ key allies in New Democracy, Evangelos Meimarakis, to suspend himself until the probe is done.
In his announcement, Ragousis referred to his own official role as transport minister at a time when he was obliged to “agree on salary and pension cuts in order for Greece to remain on its feet,” while he considered all that was being confirmed through the list as “politically immoral” and “shockingly unfair to society.”
Venizelos said that he had received the list from SDOE chief Yiannis Diotis in August 2011. According to Ragousis, the existence of the list underlined the decisiveness or not to battle tax evasion with the same severity used to reduce incomes and impose new tax hikes.”
Venizelos said that Diotis had informed him of the contents of the list in August 2011, but had expressed the opinion that the CD was presented to him “unofficially” by Papaconstantinou and that the data contained on it “do not constitute a record that was submitted by due legal process to my service and therefore cannot be subject to legal inquiry and certainly not to publication.
On Oct. 2, he repeated what he said were reservations from Diotis about the legality of the list and said that any questionable use of the data could jeopardize Greece’s efforts to convince Swiss authorities to release the details of account holders in the country who are suspected to tax evasion or other financial crimes.
“Our main priority then as now is to strike a bilateral agreement between Greece and Switzerland to tax the deposits of Greeks in Switzerland along the same lines of similar agreements signed with Germany and the United Kingdom,” Venizelos said. “I hope that the agreement will be completed soon and will benefit public revenues,” he added.
The deposits were made into the Geneva branch of HSBC and according to Keep Talking Greece the data also contained the name of 24,000 alleged tax dodgers in various European countries. Just 20 of the Greeks accounted for deposits in excess of one billion euros, or $1.29 billion, but it was not revealed if they had paid taxes on it.
The government is keeping the list secret. The CD was stolen by a bank employee and Lagarde spread the information to other European countries which modified their laws to “legalize access and usage of stolen data.”
In the meantime, the government is trying to keep the list secret to prevent another embarrassing gaffe after the names of 33 politicians, including seven former ministers, said to be under review to explain huge sums in their bank accounts and whether they evaded taxes, was leaked to media sources and put on the Internet.