ATHENS (Reuters) - Former Greek finance minister George Papaconstantinou went on trial on Wednesday on charges of tampering with a list of alleged tax evaders in a case that aroused anger among a public hit by austerity policies and economic crisis.
Papaconstantinou, who served under former socialist premier George Papandreou in 2009-2011, showed no emotion as he appeared before a special court in Athens. “I am innocent,” he said. “I categorically deny all the charges.”
The U.S.- and British-educated economist was expelled from the socialist PASOK party after prosecutors alleged that three of his relatives had been deleted from the “Lagarde List”.
Papaconstantinou is standing trial for attempted breach of trust as well as tampering with the list of about 2,000 Greeks with money aboard. They are among the names of holders of HSBC accounts in Switzerland obtained by France in 2010 when Christine Lagarde, now the International Monetary Fund chief, was the country’s finance minister. She passed the Greek names to the government in Athens.
Tax evasion is a major problem in Greece and has been widely blamed for helping to cause its crisis. Athens had to take a bailout in 2010 to avert bankruptcy but its European Union and IMF creditors demanded tough austerity measures, including tax increases, as a condition for 240 billion euros in loans.
The new leftist-led government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has promised to crack down on tax evasion and wants to use the proceeds to help ease the plight of poor Greeks.
Papaconstantinou was cleared of a charge of breach of duty by a five-member judicial council after his immunity from prosecution was lifted by parliament in 2012. However, lawmakers voted that he should face criminal charges.
Writing by Renee Maltezou; editing by David Stamp/Jeremy Gaunt