* Innocent are being dragged through mud -politician
* Suicide victim earned better life by hard work -family
* Anti-corruption journalist charged while corrupt go free
* Lists creating a sick political climate -campaigner
By Renee Maltezou and Dina Kyriakidou
VOLOS, Greece, Nov 1 Leonidas Tzanis, a Greek
provincial lawyer and former government minister, went down to
his basement garage in the city of Volos last month, tied a TV
cable to a metal beam and hanged himself.
Friends and family say Tzanis died because he was on a list,
one of several hinting at financial crimes which are dominating
Greek headlines and filling a vacuum created by the state's
failure to act decisively on tax evasion and corruption.
Shortly before his suicide, the 57-year-old told a friend he
could no longer bear the humiliation of seeing his name on a
published list of politicians allegedly under investigation for
offences ranging from tax evasion to amassing illegal wealth.
"Half of me died with him," said his brother Mihalis, 67, a
retired taxi driver in Volos. "We come from a poor family and he
was a self-made man. He was very sensitive and the list really
The list published by Greek website zougla.gr in late
September named 36 politicians, past and present, who it says
were b e ing investigated by the financial crimes squad.
It is just one of at least five lists that have driven Greek
political gossip and headlines for the past couple of months.
In the middle of a national crisis, and in the absence of
effective action against tax cheats and the corrupt, the lists
occupy the ground somewhere between libellous rags and public
charge sheets. Passed around by email, they ar e used by
activists and journalists alike as a means of pressuring
In the feverish atmosphere, some believe that good people
are being pulled down with the bad.
"The corrupt must be punished but innocent people are being
dragged through the mud," said parliamentary deputy Mihalis
He came to the defence of Tzanis, a fellow socialist. "I
don't believe he was implicated but some people are in the
business of manufacturing guilty parties. How will they face
God?" said Karhimakis, who appeared on the same list.
The government has not acknowledged the validity of any of
the lists and nobody named has been charged with any
wrong-doing. This has cemented Greeks' belief that a corrupt and
incompetent ruling class has led the nation into crisis.
Both the conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK
parties, which have ruled Greece for decades, have repeatedly
campaigned on anti-corruption tickets. Challenged on their
failure to deliver results, they say it takes time to cure a
chronic ill which is now in the hands of judicial authorities.
"It is up to the justice system to investigate and the Greek
government does not interfere," a government official told
Reuters on condition of anonymity.
So far, the only other obvious casualty has been journalist
Costas Vaxevanis, who was detained last weekend for publishing
the "Lagarde List", naming over 2,000 Greeks who held HSBC bank
accounts in Switzerland. He was cleared by a court on Thursday
of charges of breaching data privacy laws.
Another list allegedly includes 50,000 Greeks who sent more
than 100,000 euros abroad, a fourth carries those who moved out
over 300,000 euros and a fifth names people who bought property
in cities such as London, Paris and New York in the last decade.
Karhimakis, who has raised several scandals in parliament in
recent years, said he had heard he was being investigated over
what he says are false accusations that he owned three hotels,
probably in revenge for his anti-corruption campaigning.
Like several others on the list, he said he took legal steps
to expunge his name and said he secured public assurances from
financial prosecutors that he is not being investigated.
Karhimakis said Greek legal authorities were sometimes
erratic, doing little to investigate the circumstances of
Tzanis's death or major corruption cases, but rushing to arrest
Vaxevanis. "We have a two-speed justice system," he said.
The government says the judicial system is independent.
In an uncommonly swift judicial move, the editor of the "Hot
Doc" weekly magazine has already been tried for publishing the
Lagarde List, which French authorities passed to Greece in 2010.
Before his equally rapid acquittal on charges that carried
up to two years in jail, his case had caused an uproar among
press and rights groups abroad.
Vaxevanis said three ministers had sat on the list for years
and done nothing to bring tax dodgers to justice.
"Various lists are circulating around newsrooms, creating a
sick political climate and being used for blackmail," said
Vaxevanis, who said he received the list from an anonymous
"It's time for authorities to stop telling the public fairy
tales and start a real investigation into wrongdoing," he told
Reuters before the trial ended. "They are covering up for those
responsible, the politicians behind this."
The published list of 2,059 names includes dozens of
prominent Greeks such as shipping tycoons and two politicians.
It also names a painter, an actress and many listed as
architects, doctors, lawyers and housewives. It does not include
Greek officials say the list originates from wide-ranging
data stolen by a former HSBC employee, Herve Falciani, which the
French authorities obtained. George Papaconstantinou, who was
Greek finance minister at the time, has said he received the
list from Christine Lagarde, then his counterpart in Paris and
now head of the International Monetary Fund.
Lagarde and French officials have not responded to requests
Greek politicians have offered a variety of scenarios of
what happened after the list arrived in Athens, but no full
explanation of why authorities did not follow up on anything.
Papaconstantinou testified to parliament last week that he
received the list from Lagarde and passed about 20 names to the
financial crimes squad for checks. Drawing jeers from MPs,
Papaconstantinou said he then handed a CD with the data to an
aide who appeared to have misplaced it.
Evangelos Venizelos - who succeeded Papaconstantinou as
finance minister and now leads the socialist party - said the
squad's chief gave him a USB flash drive containing a list, but
he was not sure if this was the original or had any value.
Venizelos delivered the drive to conservative Prime Minister
Antonis Samaras a few weeks ago when he realised no other copy
existed. The government has made no official comment but a
source said the list was now in the hands of the justice system.
A CONTRAST TO GREECE
In contrast to Greece, which kept the list in drawers for
years, other authorities around Europe have used Falciani's data
to pursue cases of suspected tax evasion.
Athens has also been slow in clinching a deal with Swiss
authorities on taxing money stashed away by wealthy Greeks in
secret accounts. According to a May 2009 study by Helvea, Greeks
held an estimate $27 billion in Switzerland.
Britain and Germany have already signed agreements with
Switzerland but Greek officials said preliminary talks launched
last year were continuing and there was no progress to report.
Swiss officials have not commented publicly on what is holding
up the negotiations.
Reuters contacted more than 20 of the more prominent figures
on the Lagarde list. Most declined or were unavailable to
comment, but some have come forward to defend themselves.
Journalist Yiorgos Trangas said he ended up with a Swiss
account by accident after HSBC bought Britain's Midland Bank,
where he had an account at its Athens branch. Trangas said he
cut his ties with the bank 12 years ago.
Businessman Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, who was charged by a
Greek public prosecutors for fraud over a scandal that has led
to the demise of the small Greek bank Proton, told Reuters his
Swiss account was part of legitimate business activities.
He is awaiting trial on charges of defrauding the government
and embezzling funds from Proton Bank, where he was a major
shareholder, but he denies any wrongdoing.
"There is nothing grey and nothing illegal," said
Lavrentiadis about his Swiss account. "The account for which I
am listed has less than 50,000 euros."
The Lagarde list, which was also published by the major
daily Ta Nea on Monday with extensive disclaimers about its
validity, has so far produced no obvious leads into tax evasion.
Experts estimate that Greece's shadow economy amounted to
more than a quarter of annual output in 2011, the highest level
in the European Union and up slightly from 2009.
A June study by the Booth School of Business at the
University of Chicago found that tax evasion cost the Greek
state 28 billion euros in 2009. This equated to 31 percent of
the budget deficit that year, and it said the prime evaders were
outwardly respectable professionals such as doctors and lawyers.
The researchers did not need to count the yachts moored in
expensive marinas or the mansions with swimming pools on Greek
islands to make their point.
Gaining access to data at a top Greek bank, they found that
professionals had debt repayments that almost exceeded the
income they declared to the tax authorities. The self-employed
earned 1.92 times the amount they reported, they said.
LITTLE PROGRESS MADE
In a recent crackdown on tax dodgers meant to show the
public some action is being taken, police arrested 1,114 Greeks
in the first nine months of the year - from doctors to shop
owners - but with little financial gain for the state.
Deputy Finance Minister Yiorgos Mavragannis told parliament
in October that Greece had gathered just 19 million euros out of
the 13 billion it is owed in uncollected taxes.
Financial crime units have bitterly complained in the past
about cracking cases and arresting suspects only to see them get
off on technicalities after several years in the justice system.
A 2009 promise to create special tax courts has remained in
the planning stages.
Court officials deny accusations they are chasing
journalists who expose corruption while dragging their feet on
prosecuting tax cheats. One official said the first published
list, which prompted Tzanis's suicide, did not bring arrests
because it named public figures not private citizens.
This lack of action is fanning anger among a public which is
often turning to extremist parties to protest waves of salary
cuts and tax increases sweeping away their standard of living.
With none of the politicians implicated in a series of
scandals convicted, the whole political class is held
responsible and prominent figures are often heckled or attacked
on the street.
In Volos, where in Greek mythology Jason and the Argonauts
set sail to find the Golden Fleece, some local people had little
sympathy for Tzanis. "If I were clean, I wouldn't be afraid of
any list," said sales clerk Yannis Spyropoulos, 35.
Financial crime units in Athens and Volos, a port city, have
denied they were investigating Tzanis's wealth. His modern,
two-storey house in a pleasant Volos neighbourhood was the
result of hard work by him and his wife, the family said.
A father of two, Tzanis became a member of parliament in
1993, serving as deputy interior minister twice between 1999 and
2001. Eight years ago he returned to his law practice in Volos,
disenchanted with politics, his brother said.
A childhood friend, radio journalist Giorgos Koumiotis, said
he spoke to Tzanis shortly before the suicide but could not see
what was coming. "He kept asking me if I had any information on
the list and sounded anxious," Koumiotis told Reuters. "The last
time I talked to him, he reminisced about our youth. I felt he
was doing a flashback of his life."
One local resident said Greece's crisis has claimed many
more victims than Tzanis.
"This death shook me," said neighbour Aspa Theodorou, 42, a
housewife. "But I am moved more by the innocent, anonymous
citizens who kill themselves because they are victims of this