Wednesday, 31 October 2012

GREECE:'' Costas Vaxevanis's revelations'': exposes Greek sick system

Mr Costas Vaxevanis, the Greek investigative journalist facing trial after embarrassing Greece's political and business elite by publishing the names of 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts yesterday stuck to his guns, saying that his list showed ''how sick the systm is''.

Speaking from his office in rundown shopping mall in Athens, Costas Vaxevanis said that the list of the accounts held by Greeks at a branch of HSBC in Geneva encapsulated a deeply corrupt political culture in Greece.

'' It is a closed system with politicians, businessmen and their hangers on controlling what happens''.
'' We acted in the public interest....We know the list is accurate. It refers both to legitimate accounts held by business people and individuals and to others that we believe were used for channelling funds for purposes of tax evasion.

He was speaking after postponed until Thursday his trial for allegedly violating the country's data laws. Scores of colleagues and friends gathered outside the court to support the editor of the bi-weekly Hot Doc magazine. If convicted, he faces up to 5 years in prison.

''We will argue that there was no violation of privacy under Greek law as we didn't publish the amounts held in each account, only the names and professions of the account holders'' he said.

Shipowners, industrialists, artists and a handful of politicians and their relatives are on the list published last week by Hot Doc magazine. Sales of the last week's issue quadrupled to 100,000.

Mr Vaxevanis said more than €13bn had moved through the accounts on the list between 1998 and 2007. '' Our view is that some account holders moved large amount of black money through their HSBC account in Geneva to invest in foreign funds or deposit in safe havens elsewhere.

The pro-austerity conservative-led coalition government has not commented on the case.

Christine Largarde, then French finance minister under Nicolas Sarkozy's government, gave the list to her Greek counterpart in 2010 for investigation of possible tax evasion. Unofficial versions circulated for more than two years.

Politicians, media barons and some journalists exploited the list for blackmail and extortion because the government held off from a proper investigation.

Several political figures whose names were on the list have issued formal denials.
Tax evasion is a way of life in an economy riddled with abuses, discrimination and corruption but changing habits and culture represents one of the biggest headaches for a beleaguered government trying to climb a financial crisis.

Greece's Financial and Economic Crime Unit, the SDOE, has not acted on the information supplied by Christine Largarde, since 2010 and overseas banks to the IMF, because high ranking former and current ministers are among those suspected of involvement in bogus transactions and money launderig.

Reducing the estimated €15bn that slips through the tax collection net each year is onne of the conditions tied to the next bailout package.

In 2011 Greek government published the names of almost 70 doctors, some lawyers, builders who cheated the taxman. But now that Costas Vaxevanis spilled the beans of government officials, politicians, legislators, the government is singing charges against him.

The publication of the ''tax evasion swiss bank accounts by Hot Doc Magazine'' has exposed the ''sick Greek system and cast doubts over Greece's future bailout package.

International lenders and IMF have long insisted that Greece investigate those suspected of tax evasion before the country be deemed eligible for further bailouts.

The Hot Doc report did not make specific accusation of money laundering. The publication pointed out that it was legal to own a Swiss bank accout, but implied that Greek government has done little to investigate the matter.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist