* Journalist acquitted after publishing account-holder names
* Finance minister says he was not given 'Lagarde list'
* Public anger in Greece at tax evasion by wealthy
By Renee Maltezou
ATHENS, Nov 1 A Greek journalist who published
the names of more than 2,000 of his compatriots who held Swiss
bank accounts was acquitted on Thursday in a case that touched a
nerve over the role of tax evasion in the country's debt crisis.
The trial of Costas Vaxevanis, editor of the weekly Hot Doc
magazine, had aroused international concern and intense interest
among Greeks hit by the impact of the country's economic
collapse and angry at the privileges of the elite.
He could have faced up to two year years in prison on
charges of violating data privacy laws that Vaxevanis said were
politically motivated and the result of politicians protecting
an "untouchable" wealthy class.
His speedy arrest and trial following publication of the
"Lagarde List" at the weekend - so named for Christine Lagarde,
the head of the International Monetary Fund - touched a nerve in
near-bankrupt Greece, where rampant tax evasion is undermining a
struggle to cut public costs and raise revenue under an EU/IMF
It also enraged many who are already furious over the
failure of consecutive governments to crack down on the rich
while years of recession have wiped out a fifth of economic
output and hammered middle-class living standards.
After an all-day trial the courtroom - packed with
journalists, rights advocates and Greek citizens - erupted in
cheers when the judge pronounced Vaxevanis not guilty. He lifted
his fists in the air and his teenage daughter embraced him.
"This ruling is not only right, but it frees journalism.
Journalists in Greece have been held hostage for a very long
time" the curly-haired unshaven e d itor said after the verdict.
"This ruling gives our colleagues the possibility to do
their jobs without handcuffs."
Greece has so far failed to convict any big names of tax
evasion, fuelling popular disenchantment with a political class
that promised to force the wealthy to share some of the pain of
the debt crisis.
Vaxevanis has said an anonymous source gave him the list of
Swiss account holders, which Lagarde handed to authorities in
several EU states in 2010 when she was French finance minister.
In a trial in which prosecutors said Vaxevanis had
"crucified" those on the list, his defence lawyers argued no one
had complained their privacy had been violated.
Vaxevanis said he had published the names because it was his
duty as a journalist and politicians had refused to act.
"Greek people have known for two years now that there is a
list of people who are rich, rightly or wrongly, and they are
untouchable. At the same time, the (Greek people) are on the
other side, they are suffering cuts," he told the court from the
"The political system has been hiding the truth for so
Another newspaper, daily Ta Nea, devoted 10 pages to
publishing the 2,059 names, which include several politicians as
well as businessmen, shipping magnates, doctors, lawyers and
It said the accounts had held about 2 billion euros ($2.59
billion) until 2007, but also made clear that there was no
evidence any of the holders had broken tax evasion laws.
Two former finance ministers have acknowledged they had
copies of the list.
But incumbent Yannis Stournaras told parliament on Thursday
he had not seen it since taking office after a June election,
and there was no record that the ministry's financial crimes
division ever received it.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government has not
commented on the accuracy of the list, which Greek officials say
was stolen by a former employee of HSBC bank.
According to an EU report published last year, Greece has
about 60 billion euros in unpaid taxes, an amount equal to
roughly a quarter of its economy and over a sixth of its debt.