Greece's former finance minister should be prosecuted, lawmakers say

Former socialist Finance minister George Papaconstantinou at the Greek Parliament in Athens on January 17, 2013.

Story highlights

  • Greek Parliament votes for ex-minister to face charges over alleged tampering
  • The lawmakers' vote lifts immunity from prosecution for George Papaconstantinou
  • He's accused of wiping names of relatives from list of Greeks who have Swiss bank accounts
  • Questions have been raised about how the list was handled after its existence was revealed

Greece's Parliament has voted that former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou should face criminal prosecution for allegedly wiping the names of at least three relatives from a list of more than 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts.

The list of those with accounts at a Geneva branch of HSBC is known as the "Lagarde list," because it was given by Christine Lagarde, then France's finance minister, to her Greek counterpart in August 2010.

However, its existence was not revealed until September 2012. Information that the list had been misplaced, copied and altered so as to exclude certain names then started coming to light, causing a major uproar.

The three charges against Papaconstantinou are breach of trust, doctoring an official document and dereliction of duty. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence.

Papaconstantinou served as finance minister from October 2009 to June 2011, and was finance minister when Greece negotiated its first international bailout.

Because he is a lawmaker, Parliament has to approve the lifting of immunity before any prosecution can proceed.

In a secret ballot late Monday, 220 deputies in the 300-seat Parliament voted in favor of the former minister being prosecuted for at least one charge, and 166 for all three. Seventeen deputies were absent.

Addressing lawmakers before the vote, Papaconstantinou denied wrongdoing and said he was being targeted "for one simple reason, being the finance minister who put the country in the bailout process."

A council of judges will convene, probably later this week, to decide whether Papaconstantinou should face the criminal charges outlined in Parliament.

While it is not illegal to hold a Swiss bank account, and there is no evidence that anyone broke the law, suspicions are high in Greece that some of those named in the list may have opened the accounts to avoid paying taxes to the Greek state.

A parliamentary committee was set up last year to look into why no investigation was carried out under either Papaconstantinou or his successor as finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos.

Greek media questioned whether the failure to investigate those named for possible tax evasion might have been the result of an attempt by politicians to protect a wealthy elite.

Lagarde is now the International Monetary Fund chief.