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Lagarde List spawns copycat lists, and a Greek tragedy

By Stephanie Gruner Buckley

The now notorious Lagarde List of alleged Greek tax cheats has inspired a rise of copycat lists—perhaps authentic, perhaps not. Like the original Lagarde List, which went suspiciously missing for two years before reemerging last month, the new versions also contain names of everyone from public figures to ordinary Greek citizens who stashed cash overseas, allegedly to avoid taxes.

So far, there are at least five lists in circulation, either in print or online, that name and shame alleged tax cheats including politicians, actors, businesspeople, housewives and others. One list ran on zougla.gr, a website by journalist Makis Triantafillopoulos. It appeared just before journalist Kostas Vaxevanis published a list in his Hot Doc weekly paper, which landed him in court.

Vaxevanis says his is the real list handed over to French authorities in 2010 by then French finance minister, IMF leader Christine Lagarde. He got it from an anonymous source, he says. This original listed named some 2,000 Greeks with money allegedly hidden in a Swiss HSBC account. After he published the list, police charged Vaxevanis with breaking privacy laws. Yesterday, an Athens court let him go.

Reuters reported today the existence of at least three more lists:

Another list allegedly includes 50,000 Greeks who sent more than €100,000 abroad, a fourth carries those who moved out over €300,000 and a fifth names people who bought property in cities such as London, Paris and New York in the last decade.

Government officials haven’t verified the validity of the lists or their claims. Nor have they charged people named, even on the Lagarde List, with any crimes. The absence of information has created a vacuum in which some publishers could be using the lists to hammer opponents. Vaxevanis told Reuters:

Various lists are circulating around newsrooms, creating a sick political climate and being used for blackmail. It’s time for authorities to stop telling the public fairy tales and start a real investigation into wrongdoing. They are covering up for those responsible, the politicians behind this.

While it remains unclear who is ultimately guilty, this bizarre Greek farce has claimed at least one real victim. Leonidas Tzanis, a small-town lawyer and former government minister, hanged himself in his family’s basement garage. Family and friends say the 57-year-old was distraught over the shame of appearing on a list.