A list of Greeks who stashed €1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) in Swiss bank accounts, potentially evading millions in taxes, has been circulating from one official to another for years without anyone investigating. Given Greece’s need for cash, the time would seem ripe for action. Or not.
A parliamentary committee in Athens investigating the handling of the list of alleged Greek tax evaders, on Oct. 24 questioned Giorgos Papaconstantinou, a key figure in this bizarre tale. While finance minister, Papaconstantinou two years ago had received a list of names of Greeks with large sums of money tucked away in a Geneva HSBC branch. He got the list from IMF leader Christine Lagarde, then finance minister of France. It became known as the Lagarde list.
Papaconstantinou told committee members yesterday that he handed the list over to the Financial Crimes Squad (or SDOE), but not before transferring its contents from a CD to a memory stick for “greater security” and removing all but 20 names of the nearly 2,000 people suspected of tax evasion. He didn’t submit the full list, he claims, because a previous attempt by the SDOE to investigate Greek depositors in Liechtenstein had failed. He thought it prudent for them to focus only on the most suspicious cases based on the size of their deposits. The 20 names were never investigated either.
If it all sounds a little fishy, just wait.
The original list then went missing—for two years. Papaconstantinou says he left it at the ministry, but then left office and has no idea what became of it after he was replaced by Evangelos Venizelos. Venizelos, also now out of office, is being questioned by the committee. The original list reemerged earlier this month, but now people say it’s clearly been tampered with.
In a related matter, two SDOE officials are being questioned over allegedly removing an official state document, and could be accused of costing Greece tax revenue (at a fairly critical time) by not following up on the Lagarde list. They deny the charges, and what’s more, say they were never asked to look into the list by either previous finance minister.
For his part, Papaconstantinou says that accusations of list tampering are absurd:
Only an idiot would tamper with such an important electronic file.