Former Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou, set to be questioned over his role in the handling of a list of 2,062 Greeks with $1.95 billion in a Swiss bank that hadn’t been checked for tax evaders, said he never looked at it and didn’t know the names of three relatives had been removed.
Papaconstantinou, in an appearance on a news show on the Greek national NET TV, denied knowing the relatives names were on the list and that he handed it to an aide with instructions to determine whether there should be an investigation to determine if there were tax cheats. There wasn’t.
Papaconstantinou refused give the name of the aide to whom he handed the list, but said that he would do so if ordered by a Parliamentary inquiry.
The list went missing, he said, after he was given it in 2010 by former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s international lenders. After current Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras vowed to find it, Papaconstantinou’s successor and now PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos produced a copy and handed it to the office of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader.
When Greek officials went to Paris in December to retrieve a copy of the original, it contained the names that the list Papaconstantinou and Venizelos had in their possession did not. Papaconstantinou denied wrongdoing and said he suspects who tampered with the list but would not give the identity.
He admitted that his handling of the original list was “not ideal,” but repeated that his aides were not to blame as they were simply “following orders.” He said that he had requested the original list from the French authorities himself in late 2010, when the head of the Greek intelligence unit EYP informed him of its existence.
Once the CD with the information was delivered to him, Papaconstantinou said, he handed it over to an associate and asked for a shortlist of 20 names that justified further investigation due to the size of their deposits. Asked why he failed to follow protocol in handing over the CD by registering the exchange, he said that he thought it unnecessary as the list was confidential and could not be copied for the record.
Papaconstantinou said that his associate later informed him that the list contained deposits of a total of some 2 billion euros, half of which was in the names of just 20 depositors. He went on to say that he gave this shortlist of 20 names to the head of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) Yiannis Diotis so that the information could be cross-checked with their tax declarations. He also said that he had informed then-Prime Minister George Papandreou of his actions and was told to proceed with his line of investigation.
The Parliament will decide this week whether to formally investigate Papaconstantinou, and the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party said it will push for Venizelos and Papandreou’s role in the affair to also be examined.