Greek journalist in court for revealing names of potential tax cheats

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ATHENS -- A Greek journalist who was arrested after publishing the names of more than 2,000 fellow citizens believed to have stashed about $2 billion in Swiss bank accounts appeared in court Monday to answer charges of breach of privacy.


Kostas Vaxevanis, a prominent investigative journalist and editor of Hot Doc magazine, was arrested Sunday but released hours later pending trial. In an Athens courtroom Monday, his attorney requested a continuance to prepare for a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

‘This is a case of utmost public interest, and we want it to be heard,’ Harris Economopoulos, Vaxevanis’ attorney, said in a telephone interview. ‘We want the truth to come out. Greeks have endured enormous sacrifices, and they are facing yet a new wave of austerity [measures]. They have the right to know whether there is a case of political coverup.’

Vaxevanis insists that the published list, which includes the names of high-profile Greek businessmen and politicians -- even the brother of former Prime Minister George Papandreou -- is the same list that former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde relayed to her Greek counterpart two years ago to help Athens crack down on rampant tax evasion in Greece. His list, however, included more names than Lagarde reportedly handed over.

Since then, successive governments have been accused of trying to cover up the scandal, with two finance ministers and a number of judicial and tax officials shifting responsibility and blame.

Last week, George Papaconstantinou, the former finance minister who initially received the information from Lagarde, said the list he was given on a memory stick included 1,991 Greeks holding about $2 billion in funds in HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland. He told a parliamentary committee investigating the case that he passed the list to the head of the country’s financial crimes squad, instructing one of his aides also to make a copy of the memory stick.

But the original and the copy appear to have been lost, and it remains unclear whether Athens has requested a fresh copy from the French government. The scandal has stoked anger among Greeks reeling from five years of acute economic recession and faced with another round of deep budget cuts because of fiscal shortfalls. It has also underscored Greece’s failure to choke off tax dodging, which costs the state more than $20 billion a year.


“Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the lists in their hands, they’re trying to arrest the truth and stifle the freedom of the press,” Vaxevanis said.

If convicted, he faces at least a year in jail and more than $39,000 in fines.

For the record, 2:07 p.m. Oct. 29: In an early version of this post, attorney Harris Economopoulos’ last name was incorrectly spelled as Economopoulous.


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