Story highlights

Shipowners, industrialists, artists and a handful of politicians are among those named

An Athens court postponed until Thursday Vaxevanis's trial for allegedly violating data protection laws

Vaxevanis said that more than €13bn had moved through the accounts on the list between 1998 and 2007

(Financial Times) —  

The investigative journalist facing trial after embarrassing Greece’s political and business elite by publishing the names of 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts on Monday stuck to his guns saying his list showed “how sick the system is”.

Speaking from his office in a run-down shopping mall in central Athens, Costas Vaxevanis claimed the list of accounts held by Greeks at an HSBC branch in Geneva encapsulated Greece’s deeply corrupt political culture.

“It is a closed system with politicians, businessmen and their hangers-on controlling what happens,” he told the Financial Times as the lights flickered on and off.

“We acted in the public interest … We know the list is accurate. It refers both to legitimate accounts held by businesspeople and individuals and to others that we believe were used for channeling funds for purposes of tax evasion.”

An Athens court postponed until Thursday Vaxevanis’s trial for allegedly violating the country’s data protection laws. The journalist’s lawyers requested the delay at a preliminary hearing on Monday so that he could prepare his defence. Scores of friends and colleagues gathered outside the court to show support for Vaxevanis, editor of the biweekly Hot Doc magazine. If convicted, he faces up to five years’ imprisonment.

“We will argue that there was no violation of privacy under Greek law as we didn’t publish the amounts held in each account, only the names and professions of the account-holders,” Vaxevanis said.

Vaxevanis said that more than €13bn had moved through the accounts on the list between 1998 and 2007: “Our view is that some account-holders moved large amounts of black money through their HSBC account in Geneva to invest in foreign funds or deposit in safe havens elsewhere.”

The conservative-led coalition government has not commented on the case. One government official said on Monday it was “being handled by the Greek justice system, and it has to be cleared up”.

Shipowners, industrialists, artists and a handful of politicians and their relatives are among those named in the so-called “Lagarde list” published last week by Hot Doc. Sales of last week’s issue quadrupled to 100,000, highlighting Greek anger over the failure of successive governments to crack down on tax evasion by the country’s elite. The full list was also published as a special insert in Monday’s edition of Ta Nea, Greece’s biggest selling daily newspaper.

Hot Doc’s publication of the list provided in 2010 by Christine Lagarde, then French finance minister, to her Greek counterpart for investigation of possible tax evasion, has sent shockwaves through the country’s political and business elite. Although members of the Greek establishment have long been known to transfer funds abroad, often in the names of their wives and other family members, it is the first time that large numbers of such account-holders have been publicly identified.

The list was officially revealed last month though unofficial versions had circulated for more than two years. “Our understanding is that politicians, media barons and some journalists were able to exploit the list for blackmail and extortion because the government held off from launching a proper investigation,” Vaxevanis said, as a power outage briefly plunged his office into darkness.

Several political figures whose names appeared on the list have issued formal denials. George Voulgarakis, a former public order minister, called it a fake, saying he and his family did not have any bank accounts outside Greece. Nikos Papandreou, brother of former premier George Papandreou, said there were plenty of other Greeks with the same name. Former finance minister Yannos Papantoniou said the appearance of his wife’s name on the list did not correspond with reality.

The French government obtained the list from Herve Falciani, a former HSBC employee who had illegally copied detail of 20,000 account-holders, including French, German and Italian as well as Greek citizens.

Former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, who requested the list from Mrs Lagarde, and his successor Evangelos Venizelos face criticism for failing to ensure the financial police fully investigated the case. Both politicians told parliament last week that the CD containing the names and a copy made on a USB stick had been mislaid.

Mr Venizelos later turned over a copy on a USB stick to the finance ministry, but Greece has since requested an official copy of the list from the French government because of doubts about its authenticity.

Ioannis Kapeleris head of the financial police in 2010 told a public prosecutor he never received specific instructions to carry out a full investigation. Ioannis Diotis, his successor and a former public prosecutor, argued there were legal obstacles to pursuing the case.

Mr Papaconstantinou said the records dated from 2007 and the total amount held by account-holders at that time stood at €1.5bn.