A showdown is building over a pending investigation of former finance minister George Papaconstantinou’s handling of a list of 2,000 Greeks with deposits in secret accounts in a Swiss bank between the government and the major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which wants the probe expanded to other political leaders.
Papaconstantinou is facing questioning over whether he removed the names of three relatives from the so-called Lagarde List, named for former French finance minister Christine Lagarde now head of the International Monetary Fund, of Greece’s international lenders.
He was ejected from the PASOK Socialist party by current leader Evangelos Venizelos, who followed him as finance minister and also had access to the list and is being blamed by Papaconstantinou for framing him. Both served under former Premier and previous PASOK leader George Papandreou, now a Member of Parliament and lecturer at Harvard.
SYRIZA said both Venizelos – who Papaconstantinou suggested may have doctored the list – and Papandreou should be investigated too but that could undermine Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ shaky coalition of his New Democracy Conservatives and its partners, PASOK and the Democratic Left.
A proposal signed by 71 MPs from New Democracy, PASOK and Democratic Left was submitted to Parliament on Dec. 31. It suggests Papaconstantinou should face a parliamentary inquiry over allegations that he removed data regarding three accounts that were held by his relatives from the list of 2,062 Greek depositors at the Geneva branch of HSBC who had $1.95 billion in deposits that still haven’t been checked for tax evasion although Papaconstantinou got the list as part of a larger stolen CD in 2010.
PASOK accused SYRIZA of exploiting the affair to play “a coarse political game” with the aim of destabilizing PASOK and the coalition government and of “political yobbishness and puerility.” Samaras has said nothing about the burgeoning political scandal that threatens the government.
The coalition wants the panel of MPs to decide whether the ex-minister should be prosecuted for doctoring an official document and for breach of duty, but that would require a vote to lift his immunity against all crimes while serving in office.
He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.The proposal to indict Papaconstantinou is due to be debated by MPs between Jan. 14-18. A secret ballot, requiring a simple majority, will be held to decide whether to proceed with a probe. He will have the chance to address Parliament.
He has dismissed the coalition’s move as an attempt to “manufacture guilt,” and said he was willing to testify but wouldn’t be a scapegoat for the country’s crushing economic crisis nor sacrifice himself. “I have nothing to hide and I will not be a willing Iphigenia for anyone,” he said, adding that authorities and Venizelos had the data “in their possession for the last 18 months.”
Venizelos said previously he didn’t act on the list because it was stolen data but Lagarde said other European countries had used the larger list to check for possible tax evasion of their citizens.
The former head of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE), Yiannis Diotis, insisted in a statement that Papaconstantinou never gave him official instructions to investigate the people on the list for possible tax evasion. He also said that he received a memory stick from the ex-finance minister, rather than the CD Papaconstantinou had allegedly been given by French authorities.
The coalition parties identify the transfer of the date from a CD to USB as the moment when the alleged doctoring may have taken place. Venizelos had a copy on a memory stick which he produced late in 2012 after current Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras vowed to find the list that Papaconstantinou said had been missing for more than two years.
Eleni Papaconstantinou-Sikiaridis, Papaconstantinou’s first cousin, whose name was removed from the list, submitted her resignation from the state privatization fund (TAIPED.) A lawyer, she said in her resignation letter that the money held at HSBC in Geneva is “the legal wealth of myself and my husband,” Symeon Sikiaridis, whose name was also excised from the original list. The third is Andreas Rossonis, husband of another cousin of the ex-minister, Marina Papaconstantinou.
(Sources: Kathimerini, AP, Reuters)