Former Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou, who was ejected from the PASOK Socialist party after charges emerged that the names of three of his relatives were removed from a list of more than 2,000 Greeks with deposits in a Swiss bank, is pointing a finger at the party’s leader Evangelos Venizelos, who was his successor as the country’s top financial officer.
Papaconstantinou said Venizelos was implicated and indirectly accused him of setting up a frame. “If the list has been doctored… justice has to immediately investigate who had the motive to doctor it so heavy-handedly with the aim of incriminating me,” said Papaconstantinou.
He was referring to the so-called Lagarde List, named for former French finance minister Christine Lagarde – now head of the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s international lenders – who said she gave it to Papaconstantinou in 2010. He said his office lost it, but now a new version has arisen from French authorities and it shows names missing. Papaconstantinou denied any wrongdoing. “The question of why the investigation I had ordered into the names on the Lagarde list stopped as soon as I left office must be answered,” he said.
Venizelos moved quickly to distance himself from the growing political brouhaha over the list that still hasn’t been checked for possible tax evaders as the government in which he serves as a coalition partner continues to hammer workers, pensioners and the poor with more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions.
Prosecutors are examining the so-called Lagarde List,. The list – a new one obtained by Greek officials last week in Paris – has been sent to Parliament. The first did not contain the names now linked to Papaconstantinou. That has led a number of political leaders from different parties to call for Papaconstantinou’s immunity from prosecution for his work as a minister to be lifted.
Communist Party leader Aleka Papariga called for the immediate change of the law granting ministers immunity from prosecution, noting that the affair of the list had “once more brought the rot in the political system to the surface.” The major opposition party, Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) said Papaconstantinou’s handling of the list should be investigated, although a Parliamentary committee earlier blocked a probe against him or Venizelos. SYRIZA accused the government of trying to blame the ex-minister for a broader scandal of “corruption, unchecked lawlessness and widespread tax evasion.”
Papaconstantinou denied doctoring the list but Venizelos ejected him within hours after that declaration on Dec. 28, although the Socialist leader had a copy of the list, and didn’t act on it when he was finance minister. Venizelos put all the blame on his predecessor as the PASOK leader is being challenged by rebels angry over his role in the Lagarde case and his unrelenting support for austerity, which has pushed support for the party down to the 5 percent range.
In a statement, the party said: “It is sad that, according to the prosecutor’s research there’s obvious evidence that the list was tampered with regarding relatives of former minister Mr. George Papaconstantinou. This results in an obvious and huge responsibility issue of Mr. Papaconstantinou since it was he who managed the case in the worst possible way, and furthermore, stated after two years that he lost the original CD.”
The statement added that, “It is clear that Mr. Papaconstantinou no longer belongs to PASOK,” and asked for a full Parliamentary inquiry, although a parliamentary committee earlier this month voted not to investigate the mishandling of the list by Papaconstantinou or Venizelos.
“The national interests demands the truth for everything and everybody. No one has the space for small party techniques, conspiracy games and deliberate confusion regarding the stance of particular people,” the statement said, adding that the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) should apologize to Venizelos for tying him to the issue.
SYRIZA immediately came back at PASOK and Venizelos and suggested he was trying to cover up his role in mishandling the list and failing to investigate for possible tax cheats. “The belated removal of Papaconstantinou doesn’t disprove Mr. Venizelos’ personal responsibility and also PASOK in their attempt to cover and hide the case in the Lagarde List … it is unthinkable that those people are who are responsible for the case to come out clean,” the SYRIZA statement added.
PAPACONSTANTINOU DENIES ALL
Greek media reported that judicial sources suggested that the names of three of the PASOK’s official’s relatives had been excised and that they were investigating why. “There has been a deplorable process of leaks and description of names related to the Lagarde list, according to which people from my wider family circle are being identified and speculation about the list being doctored has spread,” Papaconstantinou said in a statement.
Papaconstantinou stated “categorically” that he is not connected to any bank account on the list of depositors, that he has not intervened in the list and passed it on to authorities untouched and that he had no knowledge of the list containing accounts belonging to his relatives.
“I will not accept guilt being assigned where it does not exist and being made a sacrificial lamb for this issue,” he added. “After all, it was thanks to my initiative that this information came to Greece. I gave the data to the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) to investigate. I ask that all the information comes to light and for a full investigation to take place.”
Speaking to Greek state radio from the Netherlands, Papaconstantinou said it was inconceivable that he would take such an “idiotic” risk as doctoring the list of depositors. He said that the list given him by Lagarade more than two years ago mysteriously vanished from his office.
SKAI TV first reported the link to the three names, who were not identified, as Greece has strict privacy laws. The newspaper Kathimerini reported that the three were relatives of his. The report did not identify who they were as Greece has strict privacy laws, but the TV station, which is connected to the newspaper, said one of the three is said to have deposits at HSBC Bank in Geneva of $1.22 million.
Earlier this year, after Papaconstantinou said the list had disappeared, current Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras vowed to find it. That prompted Papaconstantinou’s successor as finance minister and now head of the PASOK Socialists, Evangelos Venizelos, to produce a copy.
Venizelos said he set it aside and didn’t act on it because it came from a larger CD holding the names of European depositors in the Geneva branch of HSBC Bank that had been stolen by a former employee. Lagarde though said other European countries were using it to probe tax evasion.
WHO DUN IT?
There were allegations that as many as 600 names had been removed from the list given authorities by Venizelos but that has been disputed. Still, the failure by the two former finance ministers, as well as two former heads of the financial crimes squad SDOE, Yiannis Kapeleris and Yiannis Diotis, to investigate the list has infuriated a public crunched by austerity and as the Greece’s lenders have demanded a crackdown on tax cheats who owe more than $70 billion.
Prosecutors said they spent six days cross-checking the two documents to find out if any names were removed. The prosecutors did not reveal if the initial list had been tampered with. “They compiled a most detailed report that was submitted to the Greece’s highest civilian court with the request to be forwarded to Parliament,” a court official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Greece has so far failed to convict any big names of tax evasion, fueling popular disenchantment with a political class that promised to force the wealthy to share some of the pain of the debt crisis. “The lies are at an end, our people seek the truth, judgment day nears,” Panos Skourletis, SYRIZA’s spokesman said. “End the charade now and publish all the names,” the Communist KKE party said in a statement.
No names on any of the lists have been officially released yet. A Greek investigative journalist who published the names of 2,059 account holders allegedly on the Lagarde List was charged for breaching privacy laws and acquitted, but while the government still isn’t pursuing alleged tax cheats it is prosecuting him again.
Earlier this month, a parliamentary committee controlled by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition government, which includes his New Democracy Conservatives, the PASOK Socialists and the tiny Democratic Left, blocked an investigation into whether Papaconstantinou and Venizelos had mishandled the list and whether there was any tampering with it.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters)