Greek journalist charged over leaked bank data

ATHENS - A Greek investigative journalist appeared in court on Monday charged with breach of privacy after publishing names from an alleged list of Swiss bank accounts that the Athens government has been accused of trying to cover up.

Costas Vaxevanis, a veteran television journalist who is editor of "Hot Doc" magazine, published the list in its Saturday issue.

It included the names of more than 2,000 Greeks, allegedly from a controversial list of HSBC account holders that was originally leaked by a bank employee and passed to Greece in 2010 by France's then finance minister Christine Lagarde.

Vaxevanis's trial will open on Nov 1. He faces a maximum three-year jail sentence if convicted.

"The prosecutor's office wants to protect tax evaders. I'm just doing my duty," the 46-year-old told reporters outside the courtroom where a small crowd of supporters including leftist lawmakers had gathered.

The data has been the subject of intense discussion in Greece in recent months, as officials have claimed the original list had gone missing, while some citizens have clamoured for the government to use it to crack down on potential tax cheats.

Vaxevanis says he received the information in an anonymous letter whose sender claimed to have received it from a politician.

Among those named on a list reprinted by top-selling Greek newspaper Ta Nea on Monday are prominent businessmen, shipowners, lawyers, doctors, journalists and a former minister, as well as companies and "housewives".

The speed with which a warrant was issued on Saturday for Vaxevanis's arrest -- usually seen in the case of dangerous criminals or extremists -- has been criticised as excessive.

"Costas Vaxevanis is not a dangerous criminal," media rights group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

"This excessive procedure supports the blackout which the authorities seem to be trying to impose."

Vaxevanis was arrested at a friend's home in Athens on Sunday by plainclothes officers in unmarked vehicles, reportedly after giving a radio interview.

He insisted on having an associate film part of the arrest procedure.

"I revealed the truth that they were hiding. If anyone is accountable before the law then it is those ministers who hid the list, lost it and said it didn't exist. I'm a journalist and I did my job," he said before he was taken away.

The first recipient of the data, Greece's then-finance minister George Papaconstantinou, told parliament on Wednesday that he did not know what had happened to the original version of the so-called "Lagarde list" named after the French minister who is now head of the International Monetary Fund.

Greece's current Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras also said he had asked France to re-send the list.

Greek officials have long maintained that the information was illegally obtained and cannot be used in the battle against tax evasion. Deputy Finance Minister George Mavraganis recently called the list "industrial espionage".

But mounting anger against a new round of harsh austerity cuts imposed on Greece by its international creditors has put pressure on the government to look for the list and use it to crack down on potential tax dodgers.


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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency