The former minister said he was "framed" and won't sacrifice himself.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 12/01/13
George Papaconstantinou (right) speaks with Christine Lagarde at a 2011 EU meeting in Brussels. [AFP]
A former Greek finance minister who negotiated the country's first bailout with international lenders in 2010 is being investigated after three of his relatives were removed from the so-called Lagarde List.
George Papaconstantinou, who denied any wrongdoing, was immediately ejected from the PASOK Socialists by party leader Evangelos Venizelos -- his successor as finance minister.
A political furor has developed over the Lagarde List, named for former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, now head of the IMF.
The list includes thousands of people who had deposits in the Geneva branch of HSBC bank. Investigators in other nations have used the information to identify tax evaders, but Greek authorities have not done so. There are 2,062 Greeks, who have 1.5 billion euros in deposits, on the list.
Lagarde gave the names to Papaconstantinou on a storage device, which Papaconstantinou said subsequently vanished. Late in 2012, after current Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras vowed to find the missing data, Venizelos said he had a copy on a memory stick and gave it to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' office.
In late December, when Greek officials retrieved the original list from French authorities, it showed three of Papaconstantinou's cousins had been excised. Papaconstantinou dismissed the coalition's move as an attempt to "manufacture guilt," and said he was willing to testify but wouldn't be a scapegoat for the country's crushing economic crisis.
"I have been framed," he said. "It is very convenient for the entire responsibility for this issue to be held by just one person," he added.
Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute of Democracy, a New Democracy think tank, said Samaras' government will "gain some more points in the polls" if it deals with the issue decisively.
For Papaconstantinou to be prosecuted, his immunity while serving in office would have to be lifted. The crimes of tampering with a public document and breach of duty carry a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
Dimitris Sotiropoulos, an associate professor of political science at the University of Athens, said the revelations are dangerous for the government.
"Papaconstantinou may implicate other top PASOK cadres in shady affairs," other than the Lagarde List, he told SETimes. "There is a non-negligible probability that someone else, not George Papaconstantinou himself, took these two last names off the original list."
George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said the brouhaha is clouding a bigger issue. "The main objective for the state should be to collect money from this list," he told SETimes. "So far, there hasn't even been an attempt."