ATHENS Jan 18 Greece's parliament voted early
on Friday to probe former Finance Minister George
Papaconstantinou for his role in a scandal over a list of
potential tax evaders that has rattled the fragile ruling
In a relief for the government, Socialist chief Evangelos
Venizelos, a former finance minister and one of three coalition
leaders, escaped an inquiry into his handling of the list after
lawmakers voted by a wide margin against the move.
A motion to investigate former prime ministers Lucas
Papademos, a technocrat, and George Papandreou, a Socialist, was
also defeated in the late-night parliamentary vote.
The "Lagarde list" of about 2,000 Greeks with money stashed
in Switzerland has exploded into the latest political scandal in
Greece, with many angry that successive governments failed to
pursue those on the list while heaping austerity cuts on
Tax evasion is a major problem in Greece, which tumbled into
unsustainable debt by years of spending more than it brought in.
Twists and turns in the scandal - including revelations that
the list was misplaced, locked away in a cabinet, copied and
tampered with - have further tainted a political class widely
seen as corrupt and to blame for the nation's financial crisis.
Only the motion to investigate Papaconstantinou - expelled
from the socialist PASOK party after names of three of his
relatives were deleted from the list - was expected to pass
since it was backed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's
government. 265 out of 294 lawmakers backed the motion in the
Samaras has resisted calls by the opposition Syriza party to
support a probe into his fellow coalition leader Venizelos, who
was given the list when he succeeded Papaconstantinou in the
finance minister post but took no action on it.
"Just like the Mafia, you abandon the weakest link to the
dogs to cover up the case," Syriza's 38-year old leader Alexis
Tsipras said before the vote.
"They kept the file a well-kept secret at a time when they
raided wages and pensions, claiming that they had no other
choice," said Zoe Konstantopoulou, another Syriza deputy.
A motion to investigate former prime ministers Papademos, a
former European Central Bank deputy president, and Papandreou,
of PASOK, failed to attract broader support since being proposed
by the right-wing Independent Greeks and far-right Golden Dawn
The Lagarde list, named after former French finance minister
Christine Lagarde who is now International Monetary Fund
president, was first given to Athens by the French government in
2010. Little was heard of it until its existence was revealed in
September last year.
It then quickly became a political hot potato, with Greek
authorities coming under fire for arresting a magazine editor
who published the list. He was later cleared of charges of
violating privacy laws.
The deepening scandal around the list threatens to undermine
Samaras's government, which has secured aid from foreign lenders
to avert a national bankruptcy but remains beset with internal
rifts over a painful austerity program the country must follow.
Samaras's refusal to back a probe into Venizelos has already
cost the ruling coalition the support of three lawmakers - two
from the small Democratic Left party were expelled for backing
such a probe while one PASOK lawmaker resigned in protest.
That left Samaras's ruling coalition with the support of
just 163 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, but still with
more than the 151 deputies needed to force an investigation.
Papaconstantinou, a U.S. and British-educated economist who
served under Papandreou, has denied tampering with the list, and
says he is the victim of an attempt to incriminate him.
"If I wanted to do such tampering, would I have done it in a
way that implicates me so blatantly?" he told parliament on
Thursday ahead of the vote.
"Could I not have, for example, removed not just the three
names of my relatives but 10, 20, 50 more in order to muddy the
waters? Names that would implicate others and not just myself?"
He denied he had lost a CD with the list, saying: "I gave it
to my secretary to keep it safe and I don't know where it is
today - if it's somewhere in the ministry, or if something else