Journalist Behind ‘Lagarde List’ Says Greek Politicians Are Lying
Staff Writer, CNBC.com
The journalist responsible for publishing the "Lagarde List" of Greeks who allegedly avoided tax via Swiss bank accounts accused the country's politicians of lying about the disappearance of the list in an interview with CNBC.
Kostas Vaxevanis, editor of magazine HotDoc, was acquitted on charges of violating data privacy laws earlier this month, after publishing a copy of the list in October. He is now facing a retrial.
Former Greek Finance Minister George Papakonstantinou who received the list of close to 2,000 wealthy Greeks from France was reported to have "mislaid" it, though he denies this and said he handed it over to the financial police. His successor in the finance ministry Evangelos Venizelos has also been accused of not following up on names. The incumbent Yannis Stournaras has said there was no trace of the list at the Finance Ministry when he took over in June.
(Read More: Minister Denies Mislaying Lagarde List)
The list of people with money stashed in secret Swiss bank accounts was handed to Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, when she was France's finance minister, in 2010 by an employee of HSBC, and then passed on to authorities in other European countries. It led to prosecutions and fines in several other countries including the U.K.
"They (Venizelos and Papakonstantinou) lied, because all the other countries had acted on the material in the list –and that list had been sent to Greece in a legal way," Vaxevanis said.
"The worst thing is that in addition to all the lies that poisoned the social and political everyday life in Greece, there was also blackmailing taking place."
He claimed that businessmen were being blackmailed by people who claimed to have the list.
The current government, elected in June after a heated campaign which saw extremist left and right wing parties increase their share of the vote, "only cares about looking nice in front of the German elite," Vaxevanis claimed.
Greece is currently being kept afloat by an aid package from international lenders including the IMF and the EU. Late on Monday, the government narrowly passed measures needed to secure its next tranche of emergency loans at Tuesday's meeting of euro zone finance ministers.
(Read More: Euro Zone to Move on Greek Aid)
"The Greek government at this point is not standing by the people," Vaxevanis said. "The Greek government chose to talk with the European political elite but the discussion is provincial. We are talking about political parties who choose the people who will work for the public sector depending on their political identity. Is this what they call being "European"? The Greek parliament is full of employees who are children of old politicians. This is totally a provincial attitude. A provincial mentality that exists in this country."
Greek politics has been historically dominated by a number of important families, including Mitsotakis, Papakonstantinou, Papandreou and Kefalogianni – all of whom have prominent members in Greece's political life today.
There is growing anger at the way the political elite has handled the crisis, seen in the rise in support for relatively new left-wing party Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras. The population is struggling with rising unemployment, a shrinking economy, and cuts to pension payments.
(Read More: Why Greeks Are Voting For Syriza)
Vaxevanis argued that the publication of the list had also helped address a "double standard" for those Greeks further down the economic spectrum who are struggling under austerity measures.
"On the one hand there were people forced to pay their last 100 euros to help the country get through the crisis and on the other hand some people – people we all know who they are but nobody says a word - will not pay taxes or contribute but they may also have illegal money," he said. "That's the reason when we received the list and after confirming that those people appearing on that list are actually the owners of those bank accounts, we decided to publish it. That was not only a correct journalistic decision but also a morally correct action."
The prospect of going to jail over the publication of the list did not seem to bother Vaxevanis. During his last trial, there was a huge international outcry over the issues of freedom of the press linked to his case.
"It is obvious what they (the authorities) want to achieve: they are looking for a specific judgment. If that's the court's decision, I will go to jail. I will go to prison and they will have to deal with the fallout. They cannot meddle with the concept of freedom," he said.
"Journalism in Greece is the fourth estate. But instead of opposing the other estates, it went along with them. Journalism didn't protect society – it didn't protect itself either. When you decide to be a journalist you don't care about costs. You know what you have to do –and I had to do what I did… People know what I have done – they know in their heart whether I did the right thing."
Written by Catherine Boyle, CNBC. Twitter: @cboylecnbc.