The former head of the Greek Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) chief Yiannis Diotis, in a written statement to prosecutors, admitted that he made a copy of a list of 2,062 Greeks with $1.95 billion in deposits in a Swiss bank but denied he had removed the names of three relatives of former finance minister George Papaconstantinou.
Diotis claimed he was too ill to appear personally and avoided being questioned, but further confused a convoluted story surrounding the so-called Lagarde List, named for former former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who gave it to Papaconstantinou in 2010. She is now head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) one of Greece’s international lenders.
Prosecutors are trying to determine who removed the names of Papaconstantinou’s relatives as he also denied doing so. A copy was also in possession of his successor as finance chief, current PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos. So far, no one has admitted removing the names and are blaming others.
Papaconstantinou claims that he never ever looked at the list which he said he handed over to SDOE, headed by Diotis at the time, to be investigated for possible tax cheats after copying the original CD he had received from French authorities onto a memory stick. Papaconstantinou said it mysteriously disappeared.
In his written deposition Diotis admitted that he gave the memory stick to a legal adviser of SDOE and asked her to make a new copy on another flash drive because he felt he did not know enough about computers to handle the task himself, the newspaper Kathimerini reported. It was recently reported that the list was in his possession when the names were removed, sometime after Papaconstantinou had it and before Venizelos did.
Diotis said that once the information was recopied he had the data deleted from the flash drive given to him by Papaconstantinou. Diotis denied that he tampered with the data at any point in the process, but there are so many copies floating around it’s hard to know who knew what and when.
“I did not want to risk damaging the contents of the USB stick by any possible mishandling,” Diotis wrote in his deposition. The lawyer he claims to have given the memory stick to will be summoned by the prosecutors within the coming day to corroborate his testimony.
Meanwhile, Diotis said that the reason why he deleted the data on the original memory stick was that he “did not want a copy that could come into anyone’s hands lying around before the minister informed me on how to proceed.”
Diotis said that when he received the memory stick from Papaconstantiniou in mid-July 2011, he had not been informed of the existence of the original CD on which the data was contained nor of the fact that it had been submitted by French Finance Ministry officials.
“Had that been the case, then it is obvious that I would have handled it as a regular document and would have had no reason to see it as illegal evidentiary material,” Diotis wrote in his deposition, stressing that he had at no point been told that the material in his possession was the so-called Lagarde list.
Venizelos claims that he was handed the list by Diotis in the late summer of 2011, but says that he felt he could not use the information contained on it because it was acquired illegally through a leak at HSBC but Lagarde said other countries had used the names of their residents to hunt for tax cheats.
Diotis appealed to the financial prosecutors to conduct a more thorough forensic investigation of the memory stick in question in order to determine at which exact point it may have been tampered with.
When Greek officials went to Paris in December, 2012 to get the original list that came off a CD of names of depositors in other countries as well that was stolen by a bank employee, they found the names missing from the versions held by Papaconstantinou and Venizelos.
Diotis’s predecessor at SDOE, Yiannis Kapeleris, also refused to appear before prosecutors a day earlier, sending a deposition too in which he claimed that he had never been given the USB stick on which the data from the original list was allegedly copied, but had been given a printout with a few names. He too avoided being questioned. There were no details on whether either man would be forced to testify.
Parliament is set to decide this week whether to investigate Papaconstantinou, Venizelos and two former prime ministers, George Papandreou and Lucas Papademos about what they knew about the list and why it was not checked for possible tax evaders at a time when successive governments were imposing big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions on workers, pensioners and the poor.