A Greek-Israeli businessman has joined former Prime Minister George Papandreou, and the former Premier’s mother, Margaret, in denying Greek media reports that she was linked to a list of 2,059 Greeks with $1.95 billion in accounts in a Swiss bank.
Financier Sabby Mionis said that the account belonged to a mutual fund investing in hedge funds and that Margaret Papandreou had no connection with it.
He stated in a letter sent to the Greek state news agency that no one in the Papandreou family was involved and that, “I have never met Mrs. Papandreou or any other member of the family.”
He added that, “The fund’s cash was deposited in a custodian bank, in this case HSBC . . . No physical person was the owner of this account.” The fund was listed on the Irish stock exchange, Mionis said, according to The Financial Times.
Hours later, Nikos Lekkos, the Deputy Director of SDOE, the Greek financial police, flatly denied making the allegation against 89-year-old Margaret Papandreou, after people involved in the case said it had been included in a report handed to parliament last week by the country’s senior financial prosecutor.
“I never named anyone allegedly involved with the so-called Lagarde list,” said Lekkos. “This is clear from my sworn testimony to the prosecutor, which is part of the file that went to Parliament.”
The prosecutor was investigating possible tax evasion and money laundering by account-holders at HSBC’s Geneva branch, among them prominent shipowners, members of family-owned business groups and a handful of politicians.
Mrs. Papandreou, the widow of the late socialist premier Andreas Papandreou, George’s father, and founder of a leftwing Greek feminist group, has threatened legal action against To Vima and Proto Thema, the two independent Greek newspapers that published the allegation. They wrote that Lekkos had said that Margaret Papandreou’s name was behind that of Maria Panteli, the account holder.
Former finance minister George Papaconstantinou said the $550 million account was held by Panteli, an employee of a shipping firm, on behalf of her employer, according to an initial investigation by SDOE, which did not reveal whether taxes had been paid on it. He said that a former colleague of Mionis said that Panteli handled the fund’s cash deposited with HSBC. “There was nothing unusual in this arrangement . . . She was a longstanding employee cleared to sign cheques,” he said.
The former colleague said that Mionis managed the mutual fund on behalf of EFG International, part of a Geneva-based group controlled by the Latsis family with interests in banking, oil-refining, shipping and real estate.
The prosecutor’s report will be formally handed to Greek lawmakers preparing to debate whether Papaconstantinou and his successor Evangelos Venizelos, now leader of the socialist PASOK party, a coalition partner in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ government, should face a parliamentary inquiry and possible criminal charges for failing to ensure the list was fully investigated in 2010-11.
The so-called Lagarde List is named for former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) one of Greece’s international lenders, who said she gave it to Papaconstantinou two years ago. He said he lost it, and then Venizelos said he had a copy.
George Papandreou, who resigned in November of 2011 after ceaseless protests, strikes and riots against austerity measures he imposed on orders of the Troika of the European Union-IMF-European Central Bank, came out swinging against the accusations directed at his mother.
“The publications… are clearly targeting me and the policies I implemented against all manner of political and personal interests,” he said. His mother added that they were a personal attack against her family, dismissing the allegations as “lies and false accusations.”
She added that, “The people in charge of the newspapers To Vima and Proto Thema have the experience to know that they should have simply asked me, investigated the case before they published anything. Cowardly and immoral, they did not.”
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