Former finance minister George Papaconstantinou will face a panel of judges on charges of tampering with a document and breach of duty after being indicted by the Greek Parliament in a secret ballot so lawmakers names wouldn’t be revealed. The charges up to life in jail if for a conviction.
The lawmakers ratified a narrow 7-6 committee vote to indict Papaconstantinou for his handling of a list of Greeks with secret Swiss bank accounts, lifting the immunity he enjoyed while holding the country’s top financial job during a then-burgeoning economic crisis.
The decision to investigate him came after it was discovered that the names of three of his cousins were erased from the so-called Lagarde List of 2,062 Greeks with $1.95 billion in the Geneva branch of HSBC.
The list is named for former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who gave it to Papaconstantinou in 2010. He said it vanished but when current Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras vowed to find it, Papaconstantinou’s successor as finance chief, current PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, produced a copy on a memory stick.
Although he too failed to act on it, the Parliament controlled by Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras’ coalition at the time – which included PASOK – exempted Venizelos from any probe.
Since then, Venizelos has been elevated to Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in return for his decision to reverse his opposition to the firings of public workers.
Former premier George Papandreou, who appointed Papaconstantinou and was in regular contact with him over the country’s then burgeoning financial crisis, said he had no knowledge of the Lagarde List and never heard of it. He, too, avoided prosecution and has spent much of the last year giving speeches at Ivy League colleges on governance.
Speaking in Parliament Papaconstantinou denied wrongdoing, arguing he was the victim of a smear campaign and a political witch hunt. He earlier said others, including Venizelos and financial crimes squad investigators, were also to blame for not checking the list for possible tax cheats.
It turned out his cousins allegedly owed some 10 million euros ($13 million) in back taxes and penalties. The current government, a coalition of New Democracy and PASOK, has also failed to make a single major tax evasion prosecution while imposing more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, as well as the pending firings of as many as 27,500 workers.
On July 15, financial prosecutor Panayiotis Athanasiou recommended that two former heads of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE), Yiannis Diotis and Yiannis Kapeleris, be charged with breach of trust in connection with the list. As did everyone else in the case, they denied any wrongdoing.