Greek MPs vote in favour of charging ex-minister over tax-cheat list

ATHENS Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:56pm EDT

Greece's former Finance minister George Papaconstantinou attends a parliament session in Athens January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Icon/Giannis Liakos

Greece's former Finance minister George Papaconstantinou attends a parliament session in Athens January 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Icon/Giannis Liakos

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek lawmakers voted early on Tuesday in favor of pressing criminal charges against former finance minister George Papaconstantinou in a scandal over a list of potential tax evaders that sparked outrage among crisis-hit Greeks.

News of the existence of the "Lagarde list" of about 2,000 Greeks with money stashed overseas sparked a political scandal last year, with many Greeks angry that successive governments failed to pursue those on the list while heaping austerity cuts on everyone else.

Papaconstantinou, a U.S. and British-educated economist who served under former Socialist premier George Papandreou in 2009-2011, was expelled from the co-ruling PASOK party after prosecutors last year found that the names of three of his relatives had been deleted from the list.

Of 283 lawmakers in Greece's 300-seat assembly who voted in a secret ballot on Tuesday, 166 voted in favor of charging Papaconstantinou with tampering with the list, 208 in favor of charging him with misconduct, and 220 with breach of duty.

Under Greek law, ministers are protected from prosecution unless parliament lifts their immunity and decides to press charges. A five-member judicial council is now expected to launch a new probe into the case. If found guilty, Papaconstantinou could face a prison sentence.

"After hundreds of hours of parliamentary committee sessions, the time has come for Mr. Papaconstantinou to be brought to justice," said Rahil Makri, a lawmaker from the center-right Independent Greeks party.

Papaconstantinou has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of an attempt to incriminate him.

"I'm not responsible for all of the country's ills," Papaconstantinou told parliament ahead of the vote. "Not only is it unfair to attempt to wash the sins of many governments on my back, it's something more: it is dishonorable," he said.

Tax evasion is a major problem in Greece, and among the reasons why the country slid into a debt crisis.

Named after former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, now managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the list was first handed to Athens by France in 2010, but little was heard of it until its existence was revealed in September 2012.

Revelations that the list was misplaced, locked away in a cabinet, copied and tampered with have tainted a political class widely seen as corrupt and to blame for Greece's financial crisis, which has triggered six years of recession.

On Monday, a prosecutor ordered that two former heads of the financial crime unit be charged with breach of trust and removing files in connection the list. They have denied any wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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