PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, blasted for failing to check on a list of 1,991 Greeks with $1.95 billion in deposits in a Swiss bank, said it wasn’t his fault and blamed his predecessors, former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, and the former head of the financial crimes squad, for not investigating the names.
After current Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras was informed that the list, which had been put on a CD given Papaconstantinou by former French finance minister Christine Lagarde – now the head of the International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s bailout lenders – had gone missing he vowed to find it.
That’s when Venizelos came forward and said he had the names on a memory stick, but immediately came under fire for not having investigated the depositors who had put money into the Geneva, Switzerland branch of HSBC, to see if any had evaded taxes. Venizelos said he had never been informed of the list but didn’t explain why he had a copy of it.
He initially said he didn’t act on the list – which contained 24,000 names from a number of countries because the information had been stolen from the bank, although that hasn’t stopped other countries from going after alleged tax evaders.
Venizelos was criticized by his own party for not examining the names on the list and has stepped up his defense with his accusations against Papaconstantinou, a fellow member of PASOK, who he was named to replace by then Prime Minister George Papandreou – who Venizelos has replaced as PASOK leader.
Papconstantinou insists that he gave the information to the head of the Financial Crimes Squad, Yiannis Diotis, in 2010. In an interview with NET TV, Venizelos criticized both men. “I should have been less trusting of the state’s legal institutions,” he said. “I showed too much faith in people that I thought could exercise their institutional responsibilities.”
Diotis, who said he had been pursuing tax evaders, was summarily and without explanation replaced as head of SDOE by Stelio Stasinopoulos, a friend of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ and is due to be questioned by Parliament over the list.
Greeks have become furious over the list, which surfaced just another one, showing 36 politicians, including former ministers, had huge unexplained sums in their bank accounts. The list has been expanded to nearly 60 and the investigations come as Samaras is trying to ram through another $17.45 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes while tax evaders who owe some $70 billion have largely gone unpunished.