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The "Lagarde list" scandal is not overexposed

18 January 2013 / 18:01:58  GRReporter
3261 reads

Victoria Mindova

In recent weeks, Greece has been completely overwhelmed by the scandal related to the illegally drawn list from the archives of the Swiss branch of HSBC with names and accounts of Greeks. After yet another dose of stress over whether Greece will receive its largest tranche of aid amounting to 50 billion euro, the Mediterraneans focused on who has millions of euros abroad, why and where from, while the country is writhing under the pressure of fiscal cuts and new high taxes.

The story about the "Lagarde list" became even more spicy when the Ministry of Finance, under the guidance of Yiannis Stournaras, announced that the names of three people have been deleted from the original list of rich people with fat bank accounts. These happened to be people who are directly related to the Finance Minister of the government of George Papandreou (2009-2011) - George Papakonstantinou.

A huge scandal broke out and the Prosecution Office started a judicial investigation of the highest priority against the non-political people involved in it. Regarding guilt on a political level, it was decided that a special parliamentary committee will be convened in order to investigate the matter. One after another, the testimony of various witnesses during the judicial investigation brought new information and the common turmoil about the list proved to be a good opportunity for a possible reallocation of power in the political sphere.

GRReporter contacted Dimitris Tsiodras, who, besides being an experienced journalist with many years of practice, was in charge of public relations in the interim government of Lucas Papademos. His knowledge, which comes from the kitchen of the Greek political scene, shed new light on the case and explained some of its details.

One of the main questions that some of the more sceptic people in Greece asked themselves was, "Why the fuss, when it is not illegal to have a bank account in the country or abroad?"

According to Tsiodras, this is a matter of principle. "In Greece, a great debate on tax evasion has been evolving recently, and that against the background of a series of cuts in wages, pensions and social benefits. It is no secret that the country has a problem with tax collection. It is no secret that institutions are not working effectively and combating tax evasion is a serious challenge. Ordinary people, of course, ask themselves why the government is constantly cutting revenues rather than trying to collect taxes due from tax offenders," said the journalist.

He was adamant that, if the name of a person, citizen or businessman appears on a similar list, that still does not make him a criminal. The point is that, in order to prove this, institutions should carry out the relevant investigation and determine whether the funds in Swiss or other banks were legally acquired and whether taxes have been paid on these. "It is a matter of social justice that tax authorities do their job and utilise information like that provided by the "Lagarde list". They should conduct an investigation and see who has paid taxes on these offshore funds, and who hasn't."

So far, only those whose incomes can be easily determined pay taxes in Greece. These include people earning a salary and pensioners. Businessmen, freelancers and farmers do not pay taxes. The state should also inspect these other main groups and seek ways to increase its incomes, Tsiodras said.

The extensive media coverage of the case and heated clashes in Parliament, made a great impression. After the Christmas Holidays, developments on the "Lagarde list" obsessed the Greek press. News related to reductions in pensions and wages gave way to headlines related to developments in the investigation. The fact that former prosecutors tampered the list and speculations about the name and role of George Papakonstantinou were on the front page of all major newspapers. News broadcasts began with reports from the headquarters of the tax office, the court and Parliament with new facts on the case. We asked the journalist whether the media did make a great fuss about the affair, which has a more modest role.

"I do not think that the issue with the 'Lagarde list' was overexposed. On the contrary, every problem that arises in the open public space has the chance to be solved. It is a public secret that tax mechanisms and control authorities in Greece are not working effectively. When such cases are brought to light, the political system is pressured to take more decisive steps in order to correct the problems we are talking about now."

The delay in the investigation of the people on the Lagarde list and the mysterious deletion of the names of three relatives of the former Finance Minister, led to the growth of political confrontation between the government and the opposition. SYRIZA urged that political responsibility be sought by Papakonstantinou's successor in the Ministry of Finance, Evangelos Venizelos, who is a major partner in the coalition government. He was "nominated" among those who should be held criminally responsible, although there was no evidence of this. The testimony of a key witness in the case showed that Venizelos did not have the chance to change the content of the list, and George Papakonstantinou, who has a direct motive for changing the list, is the only one left to be held responsible.

"Obviously, there are political forces that have invested in the case in order to shake the stability of the government. I mean SYRIZA, but their plans did not succeed." According to him, the role of publisher of the "Hot Doc" magazine, Kostas Vaxevanis, who published the list, was to give SYRIZA the lead before the coalition government. However, his intervention did not prove significant for the unravelling of the case because the government had already initiated a prosecutor's investigation.

Tags: Policy Lagarde list Greece voting debates Parliament
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