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Vaxevanis Says Greece Hiding Tax Evasion

A Greek journalist who was arrested for exposing the names of 2,059 people with $1.95 billion in deposits in a Swiss bank said the government moved swiftly to silence him because it is trying to cover up for rampant tax evasion.
Costas Vaxevanis appeared in an Athens court on Oct. 29 and was released after his trial was postponed until Nov. 1. He said that, “Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the lists in their hands, they’re trying to arrest the truth and stifle the freedom of the press.” He was charged with violating Greece’s privacy laws. If convicted, he faces at least a year in jail and more than $39,000 in fines.
Vaxevanis said his list was the same as one with 1,991 names that was first given by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde – now head of the IMF, one of Greece’s international lenders – in 2010 to then-Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, who only recently said it had been lost. Lagarde said other countries have used information about their citizens on a stolen CD to successfully go after tax evaders. Greece has refused to do so, making many skeptical that the government is trying to protect people.
Finance Yiannis Stournaras, who is in intense negotiations with the EU-IMF-ECB Troika on a package of $17.45 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes, vowed to find it.  Papaconstantinou’s successor, Evangelos Venizelos, now the head of the PASOK Socialists, one of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition partners, produced a version on a memory stick but said he couldn’t use it to check for tax cheats because the information came from data stolen from the Geneva branch of HSBC Bank.
Greece’s Supreme Court has assigned a prosecutor to find out why neither Papaconstantinou nor Venizelos – and two previous financial crimes squad chiefs – failed to check for potential tax cheats costing the country $70 billion in lost revenues. As Samaras’ uneasy coalition government readies new austerity measures that are again aimed primarily at workers, pensioners and the poor, Greeks are furious that tax evaders are escaping sacrifice, while many believe the government and country’s rich elite cover for each other.
“This is a case of utmost public interest, and we want it to be heard,” Harris Economopoulous, Vaxevanis’ attorney, told The Los Angeles Times.  “We want the truth to come out. Greeks have endured enormous sacrifices, and they are facing yet a new wave of austerity (measures.) They have the right to know whether there is a case of political cover-up.”
Vaxevanis wrote: “It is apparent that a large portion of deposits are not justified with the income of depositors. Proof is that most accounts were closed after the bank briefed on the data leaking.” He said he got it on a memory stick from an unnamed source who “believed that the list has been misused for political and economic purposes for two years.”
While Vaxevanis was arrested a day after he published the names on his web site Hot Doc, a series of Greek governments have let tax cheat cases linger for 10 years or more in some cases. The Greek chapter of Reporters Without Borders issued a statement that Vaxevanis was being unjustly prosecuted. “The pressure created by the arrest of a reporter is clearly disproportionate. This procedure simply encourages an excessive cover-up,” it said.
The names listed include former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s brother, politicians, an advisor to Samaras, well-known businessmen, journalists, doctors, lawyers and engineers, actors and civil servants – some of them working at the Finance Ministry, but also students, pensioners and housewives.
The government has not confirmed if the names are the same as those on the Lagarde List and Vaxevanis cautioned that they should not be considered tax evaders but that the government should check to see why some of them have such huge sums. He did not include the amounts next to the names, which he said protected him from violation of privacy laws.
The New Democracy party Conservative leader Samaras’ government must reach an agreement with the Troika – which has pushed him to go after tax cheats – on the 2013-14 budget plan so that a pending $38.8 billion loan installment can be released. Samaras said the government will run out of money by Nov. 16 otherwise.

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