A journalist who published the names of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts has appeared in court charged with violating data privacy laws.
Costas Vaxevanis, editor of the Hot Doc weekly magazine, was arrested for publishing what he claims is the “Lagarde list”, given to Athens by French authorities in 2010 as part of a tax evasion investigation.
The list is named after Christine Lagarde, who was the French finance minister when it was handed over and who is now overseeing Greece’s bailout as the head of the International Monetary Fund.
It has been claimed that the list sat in government ministers’ hands for two years without any action being taken, a move that provoked anger in debt-ridden Greece.
The celebrated investigative journalist’s hearing has been moved to Thursday and he could face up to two years in prison if convicted.
Police have claimed there is no proof that the persons or companies included in that list have violated the law.
It is not unlawful for Greeks to have accounts in another country as long as they are declared and taxes are paid. Hot Doc has stressed people on the list may not be tax evaders.
A copy of the list seen by Channel 4 News contained the names of Greek lawyers, well-known businessmen, politicians and public servants. Some accounts are reported to contain as much as €500m.
The centre-left Ta Nea newspaper has now reprinted the names, devoting 10 pages of coverage to the accounts, which were said to hold €2bn until 2007.
Vaxevanis took to Twitter to defend his actions declaring: “Ta Nea is publishing the list today. Will they be prosecuted?”
“A month ago it published a list of the tax returns of celebrities. Charges weren’t filed.”
“Today, it’s not Hot Doc that’s on trial but press freedom in Greece, and truth.”
Leaving court he claimed “There is an effort to make me look guilty of breaching privacy laws while Venizelos has flushed the USB down the toilet”.
In testimony before a parliamentary committee former finance minister George Papaconstantinou claimed he gave 20 names from the list to the financial crimes squad.
Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the PASOK Socialists and former finance minister, said the financial crime squad chief gave him the list on a USB flash drive a year ago, but he did not know if it was the original.
Venizelos said he had handed the drive to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras when he realised no other copy of it existed.
The case comes as Greek bank shares have plunged, dragging down the stock market as the country tries to recapitalise banks to avoid bankruptcy.
A new copy of the list has now been requested from France to ensure that no names have been removed from the files.
A Greek government official said that investigating the list was the job of the justice system as the flash drive has now been turned over to investigators.