Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and his mother have denied reports in the Greek media that she’s behind the name of a civil servant with 550 million euros ($714 million) in deposits in a Swiss bank, with the former Premier saying that his family is caught in a political vendetta.
Papandreou, who resigned in November of 2011 after more than two years of relentless protests against austerity measures he imposed on the orders of international lenders, was upset over the stories that suggested his mother, Margaret, who is American, was being investigated.
“The publications… are clearly targeting me and the policies I implemented against all manner of political and personal interests,” Papandreou said in a statement issued in response to the Sunday, Dec. 2 editions of To Vima and Proto Thema alleging that the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) is probing his mother over large deposits at the Geneva branch of HSBC.
The publications quote a source from SDOE as saying that Margaret Papandreou’s name appears behind the largest deposit on the list of Greek depositors at the HSBC branch that was submitted to ex-Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou in the fall of 2010 by his French counterpart at the time Christine Lagarde, currently Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s Troika of lenders.
Margaret Papandreou, also wife of former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, suggested that they were a personal attack against her family, dismissing the allegations as “lies and false accusations.” She added that, “The people in charge of the newspapers To Vima and Proto Thema have the experience to know that they should have simply asked me, investigated the case before they published anything. Cowardly and immoral, they did not.”
The depositor is reportedly a civil servant named Maria Panteli, but according to the Greek newspaper To Vima, Nikolaos Lekkas, the Manager-Comptroller of SDOE, said that, “Behind the biggest deposit on the list is Mrs. Margarita Papandreou.”
The names were published on a website by Greek journalist Costas Vaxevanis, who was acquitted on charges of violating privacy rights but is facing prosecution again on the same charge because the prosecutor disagreed with the finding. Vaxevanis said Greece is covering up tax evasion and the list still hasn’t been examined although it was given to Greek officials more than two years ago.
The report, a shifting convoluted tale, indicated that Panteli worked for a wealthy business executive, Sabi Mioni, who was born in Greece but now lives in Tel Aviv. Panteli has yet to be questioned. Vaxevanis reportedly said that Mioni told him that Panteli managed his financial affairs.
To Vima said that current SDOE chief Stelios Stassinopoulos, a friend of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, is aware of the story and that a director of a peripheral administration, Evangelos Karamanos, said Margaret Papandreou’s name was raised in a meeting of five SDOE officials, but that it was not revealed to a Parliamentary committee investigating the list.
The paper also said that a lawyer, whose name was given only as St. Papastavrou – now an advisor to Samaras – also was a counsel to Mioni and that the deposits in the Swiss bank were legal.
Another former SDOE chief, Yiannis Kapeleris, reportedly said that Panteli’s list was on a list of the top 10 depositors – hers was the biggest – with $1.95 billion in the Swiss bank. Papaconstantinou previously testified that he asked Kapeleris to investigate the names, but Kapeleris insisted he was asked only for the tax profiles of the biggest depositors.
Papaconstantinou’s successor, Evangelos Venizelos – now PASOK’s head – said he had a copy of the list on a memory stick but never acted on it because he said it was stolen goods, although Lagarde said other European countries had used to go after suspected tax cheats.
Karmanos reportedly said he was left out of the loop and was not ordered to investigate the names. Tax evaders are costing Greece more than $70 billion and Samaras made no mention of pursuing them when he got the Parliament to narrowly approve a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike plan that again goes after Greece’s workers, pensioners and the poor while letting tax cheats escape.