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Vaxevanis Acquitted in Swiss Accounts Scandal

A Greek court on Nov. 1 acquitted a journalist of breach of privacy in publishing a list of 2,000 Greeks allegedly with Swiss bank accounts, in a case that has exposed the government to charges of a cover-up.
Costas Vaxevanis, a 46-year-old veteran television journalist who now publishes a magazine, the on line site Hot Doc, had insisted he was doing his job and accused ministers responsible for vetting the list for possible tax evasion of doing nothing for two years.
Vaxevanis, who was arrested four days earlier, was charged with breach of privacy and had faced a maximum three-year prison sentence if convicted. Calling for his conviction, the prosecutor said: “You have publicly ridiculed a series of people, you have delivered these people to a society that is thirsty for blood. The solution to the problems that the country is facing is not cannibalism,” added the prosecutor.
But after 12-hour hearing, the court didn’t buy the prosecutors argument and cleared Vaxevanis, who had pointed out that the government itself earlier had released the names of people in an unrelated case. Judge Malia Volika declared the “innocence” of Vaxevanis, and rejected all objections from the prosecution, further embarassing the government that brought the charges.
The ruling was met with applause, while Vaxevanis told Volika: “I thank you very much Madam Judge.” Leaving the courtroom, the journalist said: “I did what all journalists would have done.” During the trial, Vaxevanis stressed that he was obliged to publish the list because the government was keeping it secret and doing little to to after tax evaders while putting punishing austerity measures on workers, pensioners and the poor. “It is my job to publish this list, even if my father were on the list, I would have published it,” he said.
Among those on the list are prominent businessmen, shipowners, lawyers, doctors, journalists and a former minister, as well as companies, housewives and students although no deposit sums were published. Vaxevanis had said that it should not be presumed that all those listed were tax evaders but that some were because they could not justify the amounts in their accounts. The total was $1.95 billion but the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has shown no intention of investigating the accounts while it is preparing a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike plan aimed at workers, pensioners and the poor.
Several media representatives also testified on behalf of Vaxevanis, including the head of the International Federation of Journalists, Jim Bumelha, who called the trial an “absurd farce.” He said, “Colleagues from all over the world will be keeping an eye on this. If something happens to Costas, we will gather all of the forces that we have got, wherever we are, to campaign for his release,” he told reporters ahead of the verdict.
The head of the Athens Union of Journalists, Dimitris Trimis, also took the stand. “I would have done the same thing,” Trimis told the court, according to excerpts posted on a blog run by Vaxevanis.”A bank account is not personal data, we live in an era of transparency,” Trimis said.
A radical leftist lawmaker whose father is on the journalist’s legal team said the government had struck a “blow to democracy” by trying to prosecute a journalist for doing the government’s job. Amnesty International’s Deputy Program Director for Europe and Central Asia, Marek Marczynski, said ahead of the ruling that it was “deeply troubling” that Vaxevanis was facing charges “for disclosing information in the public interest.” He and added that, “This step increases the risk that other journalists will censor themselves and refrain from legitimate criticism of the government to avoid prosecution,” he said.
(Source: AFP)

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