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Greek Lawyers Says Vaxevanis Unfairly Prosecuted

The board of the Athens Bar Association (ABA) said it was surprised that a Greek investigative journalist was prosecuted on violation of privacy laws a day after he released a list of 2,059 Greeks with $1.95 in deposits in a Swiss bank and asked why two former finance ministers who had the names didn’t check for tax evasion.
Costas Vaxevanis, one of a handful of investigative journalists in a country where many in the media have cozy ties with government officials, appeared in court on Oct. 29 and had his trial set for Nov. 1, unprecedented swift prosecution against him while thousands of tax cheats who owe the country $70 billion have largely gone unpunished and have had their cases delayed up to a decade in some cases.
The ABA asked why Vaxevanis he was taken to court so swiftly when there’s been no action against George Papaconstantinou and Evangelos Venizelos, finance ministers in the former government of then PASOK Socialist leader George Papandreou, who resigned last year in the face of constant protests, strikes and riots against austerity measures he imposed on the orders of international lenders.
“Against former ministers, who were by law responsible for utilizing the list and nevertheless ‘lost’ it, there has so far been no legal or other proceedings of any kind,” the ABA said. It accused the government of  Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of “protecting powerful social, economic and political elements,” saying that “such choices transmit the message to society as a whole that the democratic institutions of Greece, or what is left of them, are operating exclusively for the protection of the authority system itself, at the expense of constitutional legitimacy and the rights of the Greek people.”
Papaconstantinou said his aides lost a list of the names of 1,991 Greek depositors at the Geneva branch of HSBC that was given to him by then French finance minister Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, one of the Troika of Greek lenders. Venizelos, now PASOK’s leader and a constitutional lawyer, said he didn’t check the names because the information came from a CD stolen from the bank, that listed thousands of names of depositors across Europe. Lagarde said other countries used it to go after tax cheats.
Vaxevanis cautioned that when he released the names on his web site Hot Doc that there should not be any assumption everyone was a tax evader, but added that: “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.”
As he left court following his release before his trial, he said: : “I’ll say something that’s very simple: Journalism means publishing something that others are trying to hide. Everything else is public relations,” he said. “The public prosecutors’ office has shown a special interest in its dealings with me. I don’t know why this is the case, but I accept it.”
His arrest highlighted another embarrassment for the government as Samaras is trying to push through a package of $17.45 billion in spending cuts and tax hikes aimed squarely at workers, pensioners and the poor while the government has said little about going after tax evaders, despite pressure from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which is putting up $325 billion in two bailouts while tax evaders who owe the country $70 billion have largely escaped.

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