Vaxevanis Cleared Again Over Lagarde List

For a second time, Greek investigative journalist and Hot Doc magazine publisher Costas Vaxevanis has been acquitted of charges of breaching privacy laws for publishing a list containing the names of 2,059 Greeks with 1.5 billion euros ($2.03 billion) in secret Swiss bank accounts.

There is no double jeopardy law in Greece and after he was cleared earlier this year of the same charges the prosecutor, unhappy with the verdict, had him hauled back into court again. He can’t be tried again, however.

Despite widespread international publicity that he was being charged to distract from the government’s failure to vet the names for possible tax cheats, the prosecutor brought him into court again and urged he be found guilty for publishing the names that were being kept secret. They were found to have included the names of a number of prominent personalities, including politicians.

The list was given to then finance minister George Papaconstantinou in 2010 by then French finance chief Christine Lagarde but he said it vanished. When it was discovered that the names of three of his relatives had been erased, Parliament indicted him on breach of duty and other charges of mishandling the list – which he denied – and a prosecutor has pushed for him to be tried.

The prosecutor argued that that people on the list didn’t give their consent for the names to be made public but the court tossed it out, despite a rejoinder from the government that the occupations had also been listed. Vaxevanis said the government was covering up possible wrongdoing.

Testifying in court, Vaxevanis said that the reason behind the list’s publication had been to unveil the kind of widespread corruption that has been plaguing Greece in the last few decade and which the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader and his coalition partner, Deputy Premier Evangelos Venizelos, the PASOK Socialist leader,  have ignored.

Venizelos was Papaconstantinou’s successor as finance minister and also had a copy of the list but said he couldn’t use it to scour for tax cheats because the information came from a larger list on a CD stolen by an employee at the Geneva branch of HSBC. Lagarde, who is now Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF,) one of Greece’s international lenders, disputed that and said other countries had used it to go after tax evaders.

Venizelos escaped investigation despite charges from critics that Samaras was protecting him to safeguard the coalition that has only a four-seat majority in the 300-member Parliament.