In Greece Governments Change, But Impunity Remains

They say that justice should be blind, but in Greece it seems that justice has perfect vision and winks slyly when it wants to.

Tuesday’s decision to essentially set free former finance minister Giorgos Papakonstinou for tampering with the infamous Lagarde list created an outrage among the crisis-stricken public that wanted, at last, to see justice done.

Papakonstantinou served in the George Papandreou PASOK administration between October 2009 and June 2011. In 2010, Christine Lagarde, now chief of the International Monetary Fund, gave the Greek government a list of over 2,000 alleged tax evaders with big accounts in Swiss bank HSBC. Papakonstantinou was accused of erasing the names of three relatives on the list.

A special court of 13 judges was formed in order to try the defendant amid pompous statements that justice will prevail and the ones responsible — even indirectly — for the economic plights of Greek people would be punished. It was the new government’s pledge that those responsible for putting Greece in the shackles of austerity dictated by the hated bailout memorandum will finally pay.

Papakonstantinou was facing 10 years in prison for felony. Yet, he was cleared of charges of causing damage to the state and was found guilty of a misdemeanor, namely for doctoring a document. He only got a one-year suspended jail sentence. A good slap on the wrist would probably hurt more.

One wonders on what stage the farce was played on: Was it the courtroom, or was it the Greek parliament? Or maybe the television screen? It was as if that pantomime of justice was only staged to fill television time, generate TV debates and endless arguments.

The new government has promised transparency, to put an end to all wrongs the “corrupt oligarchs” of the previous governments had made, but in the end we watched the same play: corrupt politician is caught, government promises justice, he goes to trial, he is found “not guilty” due to insufficient evidence, curtain falls.

The play can be titled simply “Impunity.” It plays on different variations of “every day” Greek society. Felonies and crimes are written off as if they had never happened. When criminals are found guilty, the sentences are usually disproportionate to the crime. And there is always a public outcry, as if the sentences are given with that in mind so the theater of impunity continues.

The actors are the politicians: They alternate roles on TV panels: good MP, bad MP; leftist MP, rightist MP; patriot versus traitor, the one with the tie against the one without tie. They argue and shout at each other — and they do the same in parliament — but the common goal is the same: to keep the chair and the fat salary that goes with it at all cost. When the parliament is on recess, the same people exchange jokes with each other.

The Lagarde list has been described as the ultimate weapon, the document that will drag to the stand all those who sucked the Greek economy dry. Four governments and six years later and the famous list has become a useless piece of paper that no one seems willing to touch, much less use. Even the new anti-corruption chief said that the Lagarde list is just the tip of the iceberg and that there are at least 80,000 tax evaders with more than 200,000 undeclared, untaxed euros each in foreign banks. Now we’re in the process of waiting to see when those alleged tax evaders will be audited. Because in Greece justice is also very slow.

Meanwhile, hundreds of poor Greeks are in prison for insignificant debts to the state. The big sharks roam free because they can afford good lawyers. It seems that the more you steal, the better chances you have to avoid jail. The institution of justice, even the institution of the Supreme Court, are ridiculed every day as Greece sinks into lawlessness.

The graffiti on the wall of crisis-stricken Athens says it best: Justice is like a snake, it bites only those who are barefoot.