UPDATE 3-Accused Greek journalist says rich 'untouchable'

* Prosecutor says editor defamed people on list of Swiss accounts

* Finance minister says he wasn't given 'Lagarde list'

* Public anger in Greece at tax evasion by wealthy

ATHENS, Nov 1 (Reuters) - A journalist on trial for publishing the names of more than 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts accused politicians on Thursday of hiding the truth and protecting an ``untouchable'' wealthy elite.

Costas Vaxevanis took the stand after a prosecutor accused him of defaming the account holders and calling for them to be ``crucified''.

He faces up to two years in jail if convicted of breaking data privacy laws. The case has touched a nerve in near-bankrupt Greece, where rampant tax evasion is undermining a struggle to cut public costs and raise revenue under an EU/IMF bailout deal.

His speedy arrest and trial following publication at the weekend has enraged many Greeks, already furious over consecutive governments' failure to crack down on the rich while years of recession have wiped out a fifth of economic output and hammered middle-class living standards.

Vaxevanis, editor of the ``Hot Doc'' weekly, was surrounded by fellow journalists and other supporters who packed the Athens courtroom as his lawyers began their defence. They said none of those on the leaked list had complained their privacy had been violated.

``Greek people have known for two years now that there is a list of people who are rich, rightly or wrongly, and they are untouchable. At the same time, the (Greek people) are on the other side, they are suffering cuts,'' Vaxevanis told the court.

``The political system has been hiding the truth for so long.''

Speaking to Reuters earlier, he described the trial as ``targeted and vengeful'' and said it was driven by politics.


The journalist has said an anonymous source gave him the so-called ``Lagarde list'' of Swiss account holders, which International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde handed to authorities in several EU countries in 2010 when she was French finance minister.

Two former finance ministers have acknowledged they had copies of the list. But incumbent Yannis Stournaras told parliament he had not seen it since taking office after a June election, and there was no record that the ministry's financial crimes division had ever received it.

``I was not given any list when I took over,'' he told lawmakers. ``I have sent a letter to my French colleague asking for the list. There has been no answer yet.''

Prosecutor Iraklis Pasalidis said Vaxevanis should be found guilty for defaming people without determining their guilt.

``He said: 'These are the culprits, take them and crucify them,''' Pasalidis told the court. ``Is this a solution to the country's problems? Cannibalism?''


Another newspaper, daily Ta Nea, devoted 10 pages to publishing the 2,059 names, which include several politicians as well as many businessmen, shipping magnates, doctors, lawyers and housewives.

It said the accounts had held about 2 billion euros ($2.59 billion) until 2007, but also made clear that there was no evidence any of the holders had broken tax evasion laws.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government has not commented on the accuracy of the list, which Greek officials say was stolen by a former employee of HSBC bank.

According to an EU report published last year, Greece has about 60 billion euros in unpaid taxes, an amount equal to roughly a quarter of its economy and over a sixth of its debt.

Greece has so far failed to convict any big names of tax evasion, fuelling popular disenchantment with a political class that promised to force the wealthy to share some of the pain of the debt crisis.

``I came here to stand by Vaxevanis because I think it's unacceptable to charge someone for revealing this list and not chase those who were hiding it all those years,'' said Stella Vergeti, a 60-year-old dentist, at the courthouse.

Jim Boumelha, president of the International Federation of Journalists, came from London to testify in Vaxevanis's defence.

``The whole issue is absurd. Nobody understands how someone who published a list which was almost in the public domain is being prosecuted,'' Boumelha told Reuters. ``I think they are making a political case against him.''