Kostas Vaxevanis, the Greek journalist who published a list of alleged tax dodgers, stands trial in Athens on Thursday. It’s pretty swift justice for the messenger, considering the real culprit is the Greek establishment that failed to investigate the roughly 2,000 people allegedly hiding substantial holdings in Switzerland.
The so-called Lagarde List—named after the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, who handed Greece the list in 2010—went suspiciously missing for two years, never to be investigated. Last week, Vaxevanis published the list in his weekly Hot Doc magazine. Greek police quickly arrested Vaxevanis, charging him with breaching the privacy rights of those named.
It’s not certain if the Vaxevanis List matches the Lagarde List, but it contains high-profile businesspeople and politicians, all of whom allegedly hid big sums of money in a Swiss HSBC account to avoid paying taxes.
Vaxevanis argues that the real offenders are two previous finance ministers and the leaders of a financial crimes squad that failed to investigate. It’s hard to argue with him, especially given Greece’s crippled financial condition, which you would think might make clamping down on tax dodgers a priority.
But tax evasion isn’t a crime just by elites—or one particular to Greece. Take a look at this chart published (pdf) recently by the European Commission to highlight Europe’s “shadow economy,” which averages 19.2% of GDP in European countries. It’s a good reminder in this season of scapegoats that tax evasion remains a sport enjoyed not just by the Greeks.