Former finance ministers from the PASOK Socialist party, George Papaconstantinou, and Evangelos Venizelos – now the party’s head – will be investigated by Parliament to determine whether they were criminally negligent for failing to vet a list of 2,059 Greeks with $1.95 billion in deposits in a Swiss bank for any evidence of tax evasion.
Financial crimes squad prosecutor Grigoris Peponis said he would ask for the probe and try to find out why the two former finance ministers didn’t act on the list. Papaconstantinou earlier said he passed it to financial crimes investigators and that it went missing, while Venizelos said he couldn’t use it because the information had been stolen from the bank.
But former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who gave the list to Papaconstantinou, said other European countries had used it to go after tax cheats who were on a broader list of names on a CD stolen from the Geneva branch of HSBC by a bank worker.
The Greek government had kept the list secret but an investigative journalist, Costas Vaxevanis obtained a copy and published it in his magazine web site Hot Doc, for which he was charged with violating privacy laws but swiftly acquitted. He said it should have been checked for tax evaders and that the government was trying to muzzle the press and hide corruption.
The 18 MPs from Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn filed a complaint against Papacostantinou and Venizelos for dereliction of duty. Venizelos’ party, along with the tiny Democratic Left is a member of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition government but the Socialists have only 33 seats in the 300-member Parliament.
The incident has embarrassed the government as Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative party leader, is giving Parliament a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike package for a vote on Nov. 7. The revelation infuriated many Greeks and has left Venizelos trying to quash a rebellion in his party over his mishandling of the list. PASOK has fallen to about 6.5 percent in recent polls, from the 44 percent it won in 2009 when gaining the Prime Minister’s office.
In what pundits say is an attempt to divert public opinion from the Lagarde list, the Vaxevanis acquittal and the Peponis announcement, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told a parliamentary committee that his office is drawing up a list of 54,000 names of Greeks who moved more than 100,000 euros ($128,561) offshore after the economic crisis began, in 2010.
‘‘This list will be much more crucial and probably more useful than the Lagarde one,’’ the minister said. ‘‘We will call in 15,000 people for questioning on the provenance of funds they moved offshore.’’ Greece is considering the establishment of a 100-strong unit to go after wealthy tax evaders but similar efforts have failed miserably. Out of 5,000 cases of suspected of tax evasion gleaned from Greek bank records, only 334 have been settled.
(Sources: ANSAMed, Kathimerini)