ATHENS – A Greek prosecutor has asked for former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, accused by Parliament of breach of duty and wrongdoing in the mishandling of a list of Greeks with secret Swiss bank accounts, to be put on trial.
Papaconstantinou, who served under then-Premier and previous PASOK Socialist leader George Papandreou from 2009-11, has denied all the charges and said he’s being made a scapegoat for the country’s crushing economic crisis.
A special council of senior judges will decide whether the trial should take place but no date has yet been set. Papaconstantinou was charged after the names of three of his relatives were somehow erased from the list of 2,062 Greeks with $1.95 billion in the Geneva branch of HSBC.
That list was given him in 2010 by then French finance minister Christine Lagarade on a CD from names stolen from the bank by a former employee. He said it disappeared but a copy on a memory stick resurfaced when his successor as finance chief, the current PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, revealed he had it. He has not been charged although neither man used it to check for tax cheats.
Venizelos is now Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister in the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader who critics said his protecting him while going after Papaconstantinou.
The prosecutor said that the statute of limitations on alleged wrongdoing by politicians, covering two parliamentary terms, should not be applied in the case of back-to-back general elections in 2012, ruling out the possibility that Papaconstantinou could escape prosecution on a technicality.
Parliament convened last May for a single session following an inconclusive poll in order to dissolve itself and call a second election, an event that did not constitute a parliamentary term, according to the proposal.Papaconstantinou declined to comment on the prosecutor’s move, but denied wrongdoing. He said in an email sent to the Financial Times: “I have always argued solely on the substance, and repeatedly and strongly rejected all the charges.”
Parliament in July brought charges that also included tampering with an official document after committee investigating the charges ruled that a case should be opened against him.
apaconstantinou told parliament he had been targeted for political reasons “because I am the finance minister who put Greece in the bailout process,” referring to the ongoing series of two bailouts of $325 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB.) Lagarde is now Managing Director of the IMF.
Greece had kept the names on the so-called Lagarde List secret but they were revealed by investigative journalist Costas Vaxevanis, who was charged with violation of privacy laws but acquitted. A prosecutor has filed the charges.
The list included the names of politicians, shipowners and scores of prominent businesspeople but so far hasn’t yielded any prosecutions nor collections of taxes and isn’t being acted upon.
Greece’s financial police, the SDOE, said in June it had traced more than five million euros of undeclared assets in accounts held by four of Papaconstantinou’s relatives, including the three removed from the list. Despite that, they haven’t been charged.