Thursday, 17 January 2013

En Garde!

The Lagarde List, if only by virtue of its name, should have put politicians on their guard, left winger Manolis Glezos quipped to Greek parliament today. Glezos, like the rest of his party, the radical left opposition Syriza, will vote in favour of sending former finance minister Yiorgos Papakonstantinou to a special court for failing to investigate the list.

The Lagarde list contains the names of thousands of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts. It was handed to Papakonstantinou in 2010 by his French counterpart, Christine Lagarde, to assist authorities in their fight against tax evasion.

With even the government backing it, the indictment of Papakonstantinou is all but certain. But Syriza has also asked for the indictment of Papakonstantinou's successor, Evangelos Venizelos, who is now leader of the socialist party, a vital component of the governing coalition. Right wing opposition parties have been even more demanding. Golden Dawn and Independent Greeks are proposing that former prime ministers Yiorgos Papandreou and Loukas Papadimos also be indicted for lacking zeal in nabbing tax evaders. "They are being protected by parliament," said Independent Greeks MP Chrysoula-Maria Yiatagana today. "We are all complicit in tax evasion."

Under the constitution, ministers who are suspected of mismanaging their duties are not tried in criminal courts, but in special tribunals run by fellow-parliamentarians, a provision many Greeks, including politicians, have said should be scrapped.

"Let the parties commit to revising article 86 of the constitution as quickly as possible, and allow the justice system to do its job," wrote constitutional lawyer Nikos Alivizatos in a major Sunday newspaper.

The ruling coalition of socialists, conservatives and moderate leftists is ageing prematurely. When it assumed power last June with 179 seats, it held a powerful majority of almost three-fifths of the 300-seat legislature. A controversial austerity bill on November 7 followed by a tax law last week, which cut spending and increase taxes by some 15 billion euros this year, have shorn it of 16 of its seats. This means that the loyalty of all three coalition members is now vital to the government's survival.

The government cannot prevent a vote over whether to indict Papandreou, Venizelos and Papadimos. In order to ensure that its 163 MPs do not defect, it is believed to be planning to order its parliamentarians to depart from the debating chamber immediately after the vote to indict Papakonstantinou.

The hunt for political liabilities does not end here. Seeking to appease a voting public seething with resentment against politicians, Syriza has also sought to indict Papandreou for committing Greece to the country's unpopular austerity programme partly overseen by the International Monetary Fund, in return for bailout loans. The current Lagarde debate in parliament has reminded many Greeks of 1989, when Andreas Papandreou, father of Yiorgos, was nearly convicted in a special tribunal for embezzlement. 

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