Tuesday

31st May 2016

Greek finance officials among suspected tax evaders

Greek magazine Hot Doc has published the names of 2,059 suspected tax evaders in a move likely to stoke social tension.

The roll call of people who held accounts at the HSBC bank in Geneva includes Stavros Papastavros, an aide to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and the wife of Georgios Voulgarakis, Samaras' former minister of culture and public order, as well as officials in the finance ministry, businessmen, doctors, housewives, lawyers, pensioners and students.

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  • Vaxevanis: 'I am a journalist and I did my job' (Photo: John D. Carnessiotis, Athens, Greece)

Hot Doc redacted the amounts of money held in the accounts, but said some of them contained as much as €500 million.

The journal's editor, Costas Vaxevanis, was briefly arrested after it went out on Saturday (27 October).

He is to face misdemeanour charges on violating privacy laws in court on Monday.

"I only did my job. I am a journalist and I did my job," he said in a video statement sent to Reuters.

"The important thing is that a group of people - when Greece is starving - make a profit ... Tomorrow in parliament they will vote to cut €100-200 in pay for the Greek civil servant, for the Greek worker while at the same time most of the 2,000 people on the list appear to be evading tax by secretly sending money to Switzerland," he added.

Hot Doc said it got the list on a USB stick from an anonymous whistleblower.

It originated in 2007 when an HSBC staff member stole data on 24,000 customers and fled to France.

The then French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, who now runs the International Monetary Fund, passed the Greek names to Athens in 2010, lending it the name "the Lagarde list."

The data later went missing, prompting conspiracy theories which led to a parliamentary enquiry.

Former finance minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou told the probe earlier this month that the net worth of the list is €1.5 billion.

He added that Greek tax police did nothing about it because "they probably got scared. They looked at the names on the list and saw it was full of important people from business and publishing and decided not to go ahead without clear political instructions and cover."

For its part, the Greek government has declined to speak out on the Hot Doc revelation.

But Voulgarakis - one of the high-level names implicated in the article - denied having offshore accounts.

The publication is likely to stoke tension at a time when Greek leaders look to cut another €13.5 billion to meet bailout demands.

"Unfortunately, justice has been quick to move against those who reveal, while showing sluggishness against those who conceal, who lost, forgot, didn't see and didn't hear," the country's left-wing opposition party, Syriza, said in a statement.

A study by the University of Chicago in June estimated that Greece loses €28 billion a year in tax evasion.

Some of its wealthiest citizens and institutions - shipowners and the Greek Ortodox church - are exempt from tax by law.

Finance ministers baulk at tax-avoidance rules

Member states will discuss again in June a proposed directive to outlaw practices used by large companies to avoid paying taxes. Meanwhile, the European Parliament makes progress on its probe of Panama Papers.

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