Greek editor detained over rich list

EARNING HIS STRIPES::The editor was arrested for violating Greek laws on releasing private data, but the journalist defended himself, saying he was just doing his job

Reuters, ATHENS

Tue, Oct 30, 2012 - Page 7

Greek police arrested the editor of a weekly magazine for publishing a list of more than 2,000 names of wealthy Greeks who have placed money in Swiss bank accounts, police said on Sunday.

The so-called “Lagarde List” — given to Greece by French authorities in 2010 with names of Greek account holders at HSBC in Switzerland to be probed for possible tax evasion — has been a topic of heated speculation in the Greek media. It is named after IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who was French finance minister when it was handed over.

Hot Doc magazine published 2,059 names, including those of some well-known business and political figures on Saturday, who it said together held 2 billion euros (US$2.5 billion) of deposits until 2007.

The magazine said it had been sent the list anonymously. Authorities did not confirm if the list was authentic.

Editor Costas Vaxevanis was arrested for violating laws on releasing private data on Sunday, police said. He was released pending trial after appearing before a prosecutor.

“He published a list of names without special permission and violated the law on personal data,” a police official said.

The list has inspired much discussion in near-bankrupt Greece, where public anger at politicians and the wealthy elite grows as austerity measures take a toll.

The names of two politicians on the list have been referred to parliament for investigation, court officials said.

In a video sent to reporters by his magazine, Vaxevanis appeared on camera to defend his decision to publish the list.

“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.”

He accused authorities of trying to muzzle the press.

“The important thing is that a group of people — when Greece is starving — make a profit and try to create the Greece they want,” he said. “Tomorrow in parliament they will vote to cut 100 to 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.”

George Papaconstantinou, who was Greece’s finance minister when the list was first handed to Athens, last week told a parliamentary committee that he gave about 20 names from the list to the head of the financial crimes squad for checks.

He also said that he gave a CD containing the list to one of his aides when he stepped down from the post, but that the CD then appeared to have been misplaced.

Evangelos Venizelos, chief of the PASOK Socialists and also a former finance chief, said he had a USB flash drive containing a list, but it was not clear if it was the original.

Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras last week said he would ask for the list once again from French authorities.