independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Ex-minister faces parliament probe

Former finance minister Georges Papakonstantinou addresses to the Parliament in Athens (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greek MPs have voted to investigate former finance minister George Papaconstantinou over his handling of data on citizens with Swiss bank accounts and whether he amended the list to remove three of his relatives.

The MPs voted in a marathon 16-hour parliament session by 265 votes in favour and six against. With the three-party coalition government backing the call for an investigation, the motion had been all but assured to pass.

Two proposals by opposition parties for broader investigations failed. One had been to launch probes into the handling of the data by former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, who currently heads one of the coalition parties, and the other expand the investigation to two former prime ministers.

French authorities gave the list of names to Athens in 2010 as Greece's economy was imploding. But Greek authorities failed to investigate the data for potential tax evasion, sparking outrage at a time of severe salary and pension cuts, and spiralling unemployment.

Mr Papaconstantinou insists he did not amend the list and contended during the parliamentary debate that he was the target of a vicious smear campaign. "I did not tamper with the data. It is inconceivable that I would have acted in such a way that would so blatantly involve me," he said.

The three relatives who were found missing from the list have since given evidence to authorities that the funds in the Swiss accounts were legal and taxed, he noted.

The list of about 2,000 Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland is part of data on 24,000 HSBC customers allegedly stolen from the bank by an employee.

After about two years of inaction, the list emerged into the public eye again late last year when it was leaked to a magazine publisher, who printed the names. Greek authorities requested a new copy from France for fear their version had been doctored, and when it arrived it emerged that three of Papaconstantinou's relatives had been removed.

Mr Papaconstantinou acknowledged the list should have been better handled, but insisted this was not a matter for a criminal investigation. "Clearly the political responsibility is fully my own and it is clear that the issue should have been handled better," he said. "But it is unfortunate that my mishandling of this issue can be used an excuse for this process."

Parliament's investigative committee is to meet next week and will officially be given 30 days to come up with their findings. An extension to that deadline could also be granted.

Press Association

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