Sunday, 28 October 2012

Hot Doc Publisher Explains Why He Exposed Lagarde List

Publisher Kostas Vaxevanis has been released after his arrest today for publishing what purports to be a list of possible tax evaders. He was charged with violating Greek privacy law and will appear in court on Monday.

A list of some 2,000 names was handed to then Greek Finance Minister Yiorgos Papakonstantinou in 2010 by his then French counterpart, Christine Lagarde, current head of the International Monetary Fund. It was said to contain the names of Greeks with accounts in the Swiss bank HSBC French authorities thought worthy of investigation for possible tax evasion.

Vaxevanis said in an exclusive interview to Al Jazeera's John Psaropoulos that his list of 2,059 names is that list. "A package arrived at the magazine from an unknown sender, who said 'this is the genuine Lagarde List. It comes from a politician's office, and has not been used for its intended purpose but for illegal purposes.' And the sender asked us to expose the truth. The first question was whether the list is true. So we called up a sample of well known people on the list, like shipowners who might well have accounts abroad, told them why we were calling, and they verified the amounts listed as well as the transcripts of phone calls with the bank and contact information. So it became apparent that the list was most probably genuine"

Vaxevanis said his motive in publishing the list was to inform the political debate. " I can't sit here and watch the country falter and the political system being maligned. And all this when the list exists and can be discussed on the basis of the facts. For instance it was said that there were politicians on the list - well there aren't. ... it is made up of the bosses of the politicians - from newspaper publishers, businesspeople, friends of ministers, those who wine and dine with members of parliament. That is the list."

Former finance ministers Yiorgos Papakonstantinou and Evangelos Venizelos, as well as the chiefs of the financial crimes squad who operated under them, have been called to a parliamentary committee to answer why the list was not prosecuted or made public.

Papakonstantinou said he passed the list on for investigation. Venizelos claimed the list was "legally unusable" because it came through informal channels (see the related New Athenian story). Both Vaxevanis and the radical left opposition party Syriza disagree. "This list was given to Greece officially and had been used by other countries without problems, but the ministers it was given to treated it as a private thing, not as a state asset that had to be looked into," Vaxevanis said. "One of them put it in his pocket, the other lost it, a third lost the CD - these things are ludicrous, but they stem from ulterior motives."

The "Lagarde List" as it has been dubbed by media appears at a sensitive time for the Greek government, which is planning to introduce painful austerity measures worth 13.5bn euro in parliament on Monday.

Hot Doc will publish a regular edition on Thursday, two days after the parliamentary vote. Asked whether he rushed the list into print in an off-cycle edition before the vote in order to prevent passage of the measures, Vaxevanis says he has no ulterior political motives. "As a journalist my reasoning is, I have a big story and I have to get it out," he said. However, he expressed himself against the policy of austerity. "It is creating recession and unemployment," he said. Upon leaving court today, Vaxevanis was accompanied by Rena Dourou, a senior Syriza party official.

Vaxevanis is to appear in court at noon tomorrow for an express trial (αυτόφωρο). He will try to have this commuted to a proper, criminal trial, he says, in which his lawyers will have time to prepare. He said he does not believe he violated Greek privacy law, because he only published the names on the list, not the amounts they held in their accounts. "The fact that I have an account is not a secret," he told The New Athenian. "Only the amount in the account."

The list was scanned from Hot Doc magazine and republished on a number of sites, including www.tvxs.gr.

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