ATHENS, Oct 29 (Reuters) - A major Greek newspaper reprinted the names of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts on Monday and the editor who first published the list was to go on trial for violating data privacy laws.
Ta Nea devoted 10 pages to the list of accounts said to hold some 2 billion euros until 2007, a sum that riveted austerity-hit Greeks, angry at the privileges of politicians and an elite seen as having enriched themselves at the country’s expense.
The list, given to Greece by French authorities in 2010, contains the names of 2,059 Greek account holders at HSBC in Switzerland to be probed for possible tax evasion.
It has been dubbed the “Lagarde List” after Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund who was the French finance minister when the list was handed over.
The centre-left daily said that despite publishing the same list released by the weekly magazine Hot Doc it was not leaping to any conclusions about “its content nor the connotations it evokes in a large part of the public.”
It did not say why it had decided to reprint the list and stressed there was no evidence linking any one on the list to tax evasion.
Costas Vaxevanis, editor of “Hot Doc” that first went to print with the list, was due in court later on Monday on misdemeanour charges. He could face up to two years in prison if convicted.
“Ta Nea is publishing the list today. Will they be prosecuted? A month ago it published a list of the tax returns of celebrities. Charges weren’t filed,” Vaxevanis wrote on his Twitter account.
“Today, it’s not Hot Doc that’s on trial but press freedom in Greece, and truth,” Vaxevanis said.
The magazine says the list, which includes well-known political and business figures, was sent to it anonymously and authorities have not confirmed if the list was authentic.
Greek authorities have said there is no evidence that people included in the list have violated the law, but former ministers have come under fire in Greek media for not investigating the list for suspected evaders.
“He published a list of names without special permission and violated the law on personal data,” a police official said on Sunday following the arrest of Vaxevanis.
“There is no proof that the persons or companies included in that list have violated the law. There is no evidence that they violated the law on tax evasion or money laundering,” the official added.
Court officials said the names of two politicians on the list have been referred to parliament for investigation, and the accounts controversy has highlighted deep divisions in a country now in its fifth straight year of recession, where austerity measures have taken a heavy toll on poorer sections of society.
In a video sent to Reuters by his magazine, Vaxevanis defended his actions and said his prosecution was an attempt by the authorities to muzzle the press.
“I did nothing other than what a journalist is obliged to do. I revealed the truth that they were hiding,” he said. “If anyone is accountable before the law then it is those ministers who hid the list, lost it and said it didn’t exist. I only did my job. I am a journalist and I did my job.”
“Tomorrow in parliament they will vote to cut 100-200 euros in pay for the Greek civil servant, for the Greek worker, while at the same time most of the 2,000 people on the list appear to be evading tax by secretly sending money to Switzerland.”