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Greece lawmakers call for probe of former minister

December 31, 2012|By Anthee Carassava
  • George Papaconstantinou, at the time Greece's finance minister, addresses a news conference in Athens on June 10.
George Papaconstantinou, at the time Greece's finance minister,… (Louisa Gouliamaki / Agence…)

ATHENS – Greece’s ruling coalition on Monday called for a parliamentary probe into allegations that former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou altered a list of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, deleting the names of three relatives.

The move, petitioned by 71 lawmakers from the three-party governing alliance, follows a probe by judicial investigators who found evidence that Papaconstantinou acted in breach of faith and duty while handling a list of potential tax dodgers during his nearly two-year term at the helm of the Finance Ministry.

Papaconstantinou, a loyal protege of then-Prime Minister George Papandreou, a socialist, has denied any wrongdoing, saying he received the list from French authorities in 2010 but then lost the computer disk after proffering a copy to Greece’s financial police.

“If there are accounts on the list that relate to people in my wider family environment,” he said in written statement, “this is something that I did not know.

“I will not accept this fabrication of guilt,” he added. “Nor will I become the scapegoat in this case.”

A British-trained economist and former European lawmaker, Papaconstantinou enjoyed the deep-seated support of Papandreou in signing Greece up to its first $150-billion bailout with the European Union and International Monetary Fund in 2010. His free hand in formulating fiscal austerity gained him the nickname “Tsar.”

The allegations against him surfaced last week after French officials re-sent the original list and Supreme Court prosecutors matched it up against Papaconstantinou’s USB copy, detecting three missing accounts.

“The CD provided by the French authorities had 2,062 [names], not 2,059 as Mr. Papaconstantinou presented with his USB stick,” the lawmakers petition read Monday. The petition for the parliamentary probe identified the three holders of the missing accounts as the former minister’s cousin Eleni Sikiadiaris Papaconstantinou, her husband Symeon Sikiaridis and Andreas Rossonis, the husband of another cousin.

At least one of the three accounts held deposits in excess of $1.2 million. None of the holders was available for comment Monday.

Papaconstantinou has been ousted from the socialist Pasok party.

After the probe the country’s 300-seat parliament will convene within two weeks to vote on whether Papaconstantinou should face a special Supreme Court trial for criminal tampering and breach of duty.

It remained unclear whether the scope of the congressional probe would broaden to include Papandreou, his political mentor, and his successor, Evangelos Venizelos.

The latest revelation adds a twist not only to Papaconstantinou’s case but to a saga that has stoked anger among millions of austerity-hit Greeks.

With the government struggling to fix the country’s broken economy, the emerging scandal has cast a pall over Athens’ attempt to regain public credibility at a time when officials have mounted yet another crackdown on widespread tax evasion that is denying the state of at least $52 billion a year.

An opinion poll published Sunday showed 68% of Greeks saying the government was not doing enough to bust tax cheats, preferring instead to impose spending cuts and tax hikes to make up for state losses.

“This cover-up is hardly surprising,” said Kostas Vaxevanis, an investigative journalist who was arrested, tried and found not guilty in November for publishing a leaked copy of the contentious HSBC bank list. “This is just one of many lists of many scandals circulating in Greece. This is just the start.”

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