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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Scandal Deepens Over Greece's 'Lagarde List'

ATHENS—A corruption scandal involving a list of thousands of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts took a new turn Friday, focusing on the former finance minister who received the list on Greece's behalf.

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Ex-Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou
 was expelled from party
.
Cousins of then-finance minister George Papaconstantinou were among the names of Greeks associated with 2,062 offshore banking accounts on a list that France handed over to Mr. Papaconstantinou in 2010, a Greek court official and a senior government adviser said Friday. A version of the list that was later handed to prosecutors didn't include three accounts associated with the relatives, the officials said.
Mr. Papaconstantinou, who negotiated Greece's first international bailout and was unpopular in the country for presiding over the government's first round of austerity measures, has denied any wrongdoing. He hinted that others were seeking to incriminate him.
"I have not made any intervention in the details that I asked for and received from the French authorities," Mr. Papaconstantinou wrote on his personal website Friday. "If there are accounts on the list that relate to people in my wider family environment, this is something that I did not know of until today."
Friday's allegations stoked public scorn toward politicians and deepened the saga surrounding the list of Greeks with Swiss accounts that Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister, handed over to Mr. Papaconstantinou.
Many Greeks have argued that austerity measures undertaken by Mr. Papaconstantinou and other officials have struck disproportionately at the country's poor, and that the government has done a little to crack down on tax evasion by the rich or tackle corruption by the country's business and political elite.
The disclosure this fall that government officials had in 2010 received a list that could lead them to potential wealthy tax evaders—and that officials hadn't pursued these leads amid two years of recession and painful austerity measures—has touched off months of controversy.
On Friday, Greece's socialist party Pasok, a member of the three-party coalition government, expelled Mr. Papaconstantinou, who doesn't hold a parliamentary seat. The coalition government is preparing to launch a parliamentary probe into the matter as soon as Monday, said government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou.
The Lagarde List, as it is widely known here, is drawn from data obtained by former employees of the Geneva branch of HSBC, HSBA.LN -0.11% who electronically copied details of 24,000 clients. The information wound up in the hands of French tax authorities, as well as those of Italy and Spain. All three countries started probes to recover unpaid taxes.
In late 2010, Ms. Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, gave a compact disc containing information on Greek account-holders to her Greek counterpart, according to testimonies in Greek Parliament. Mr. Papaconstantinou has said in the testimony that he handed the information to Greece's special tax police but otherwise didn't act on it. The head of Greece's tax police testified that his department had received 10 names.
In 2011, Mr. Papaconstantinou was removed as finance minister and says he passed the list to his successor—Evangelos Venizelos, now head of the Socialist party.
When word of the Lagarde List became public in recent months, Mr. Venizelos initially denied knowledge of it. Later, in early October, he passed a flash drive with a list of accounts to the prime minister's office. He has said he hadn't pressed tax police to pursue the names on the list, saying lawyers had told him the information couldn't be acted upon because it had been obtained illegally from HSBC.
In October, a Greek investigative journalist published a version of the list, with the names, companies and professions of those associated with 2,059 accounts, but not the monetary values. It included the wife of one former conservative minister and the name of a second, now deceased, and a current adviser to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
As questions over the integrity of the two-year-old list grew, Greek prosecutors asked France for a fresh copy, which they received and examined last week. The new list included 2,062 bank accounts—three more than the list disclosed by the journalist—according to the two Greek officials.
According to these officials, Mr. Papaconstantinou's two cousins and their husbands were linked to the three accounts. One is reported to contain $1.2 million, according to local media. The family members couldn't be reached for comment.
In a second statement issued on his personal website, Mr. Papaconstantinou pointed the finger at Mr. Venizelos, the Pasok party chief.
"I am saddened that the president of Pasok rushes to lay blame for a possible falsification of the Lagarde List on me personally. If the list has really been doctored, and even more so with the removal of persons related to me, justice and the authorities have to immediately investigate who had the motive to doctor it so heavy handedly with the aim of incriminating me," he wrote. "Also, the question of why the investigation I had ordered into the names on the Lagarde List stopped as soon as I left the finance ministry must be answered."
Mr. Venizelos didn't respond publicly.
The matter coincides with a separate corruption probe involving millions of euros allegedly embezzled at Greece's national tourism agency and apparently implicating several political appointees. Many Greeks were openly skeptical that anything would come of a parliamentary probe on the Lagarde List, with the latest allegations, whether borne out or not, only serving to confirm a deep-rooted suspicion of government.
"Nothing is going to happen," said Nikos Galanos, a 45-year-old warehouse manager. "The politicians all look after each other.This is the finance minister that formulated all these tough new austerity measures on ordinary people and at the same time looks like he was covering for members of his own family. That's hypocrisy at the highest level."

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