Published December 27, 2012
ATHENS – Greek prosecutors are checking a list of possible tax cheats, court sources said on Thursday, in a case that has highlighted Athens's failure to crack down on tax evasion, one of the factors behind the country's financial crisis.
Given to Greece for a second time by French authorities on December 21, the list contains hundreds of names of Greek account holders at global bank HSBC in Switzerland, which authorities want to investigate over suspected tax evasion.
The affair has enraged the public and opposition parties already furious over the failure of consecutive governments to crack down on the rich and powerful, while years of recession have wiped out a fifth of economic output and hammered middle-class living standards.
France originally handed over the list to Athens in 2010. But former Greek government officials did not act on it, fuelling public anger and prompting suspicion that some names were erased before it was handed over to parliament earlier this year.
To put an end to the confusion, Greek prosecutors traveled to Paris last week to re-obtain the original list. They are now cross-checking the two documents to find out if any names were removed. "There might be a preliminary finding by Monday on whether the list was tampered with," a court official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The list originates from wide-ranging data stolen by a former HSBC employee, which Paris obtained. Greeks have dubbed it the "Lagarde List" after Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund who was French finance minister when the list was originally handed over.
Greece has so far failed to convict any big names of tax evasion, fuelling popular disenchantment with a political class that promised to force the wealthy to share some of the pain of the debt crisis.
By contrast, other authorities around Europe have used the data to pursue cases of suspected tax evasion.
"The lies are at an end, our people seek the truth, judgment day nears," Panos Skourletis, spokesman of Greece's main opposition Syriza party said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Erica Billingham)