Kostas Vaxevanis and the truth about Greek tax evasion

On Sunday [Oct 28th], the Greek police arrested one of the country’s top investigative journalists, Kostas Vaxevanis, whilst he was in the middle of a live radio interview. Vaxevanis was subsequently charged with breaching privacy on the grounds that he had published the names of more than 2,000 suspected tax evaders. The same list of names having originally been leaked by an employee at the HSBC bank in 2007, before being passed on to IMF chief Christine Lagarde, when she was still French finance minister back in 2010:

[Vaxevanis] has said he received the list – named after the International Monetary Fund head, Christine Lagarde, who gave it to authorities in several EU countries in 2010 when she was French finance minister – from an anonymous source.

The daily Ta Nea newspaper also published the 2,059 names, which include those of several politicians as well as many businessmen, shipping magnates, doctors and lawyers. It said the accounts had held about €2bn until 2007, but also made clear there was no evidence that any of the account holders had broken tax evasion laws.1

You can click here to read some of the names on the so-called ‘Lagarde list’.

And Lagarde had indeed handed the list on to the Greek authorities, but no action was subsequently taken:

On Friday [Oct 26th], the office of former Prime Minister George Papandreou denied accusations that he knew about the list, after a member of the opposition Syriza party asserted that Papandreou had helped arrange a meeting with the chief of the Geneva HSBC branch when he was in power.

Last week, former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said that he had asked the country’s financial crimes unit to investigate about 20 Greeks suspected of maintaining large holdings in Geneva, after French authorities forwarded him the list in 2010. He also claimed that the Finance Ministry’s legal adviser had told him that using the list as evidence was problematic, since an HSBC employee had illegally leaked it.

Click here to read the full report on Russia Today.

So it certainly seemed more than curious to many in Greece that it was not any of those suspected of tax evasion who were suddenly under investigation, but the whistleblower Vaxevanis himself who had been arrested. His crime being merely to have published the same list of names in Hot Doc, a weekly magazine which he edits:

“He’s been accused without reason,” said Nicos Constantopoulous, Vaxevanis’s lawyer and a former leftist politician. “The principles of a fair trial are not being followed.”

Vaxevanis’s arrest and trial following publication at the weekend has enraged many people already furious over consecutive governments’ failure to crack down on a rich elite whom they blame for years of recession.2

Click here to read the full report in the Guardian.

It is heartening to learn then, that yesterday, and following a trial that lasted just one day, a court in Athens has found Vaxevanis innocent:

“The three last governments have lied and have made a mockery of the Greek people with this list,” [Vaxevanis] said.

“They were obliged to pass it to parliament or to the justice system. They didn’t do it, and they should be in prison for it.”

Prosecutors had accused him of publicly ridiculing people and delivering them “to a society that is thirsty for blood”.

“The solution to the problems that the country is facing is not cannibalism,” the prosecutor said.

But the court took little time in acquitting the journalist, and observers in the courtroom broke out in applause, according to the AFP news agency.

Click here to read the full story on BBC news and also to watch a short interview with Kostas Vaxevanis.

Yanis Varoufakis, professor of Economics at the University of Athens, spoke to Russia Today about Vaxevanis’s arrest and also put the whole issue of Greek tax evasion into better context:

Let’s not beat about the bush. The great problem with tax evasion in Greece…it is one of the reasons that Greece is being portrayed internationally as a corrupt country, and Greeks on the streets who pay their taxes, work very hard and are suffering are incensed at how they are portrayed internationally.

The fact is that for the last 30-40 years, the rich in Greece has enjoyed a kind of tax immunity. They’re not really tax evaders, they’re immune from tax because of the cozy relationship that they have with politicians who legislate in a way that makes that tax immunity.

1 From an article entitled “Greek Lagarde list publisher accused without reason, court told: Journalists and other supporters pack courtroom in Athens as lawyers for Kostas Vaxevanis open defence case” from Reuters published by the Guardian on November 1, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/01/greek-lagarde-list-publisher-court

2 ibid

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