Greek tax cheats list altered to hide names -court sources

Harry Papachristou
Reuters Middle East

* Relatives of ex-minister were removed from accused tax

dodgers list -officials

* Former finance minister denies tampering with list

* PASOK party expels him over "Lagarde List" affair

ATHENS, Dec 28 (Reuters) - A list of possible Greek tax

cheats with Swiss bank accounts was tampered with to remove the

names of relatives of the finance minister at the time, court

officials said on Friday.

George Papaconstantinou, 51, who negotiated Greece's first

international bailout in 2010, denied he changed the list after

receiving it from French authorities two years ago, saying he

was not aware any family members were on it.

The revelation adds a new twist to a case that has

infuriated austerity-struck Greeks, angry at the government's

failure to crack down on the tax evasion that has contributed to

the country's financial crisis.

The original list included the names of three people with

family ties to Papaconstantinou who were later removed, as Greek

officials confirmed when they received a fresh copy of the list,

one court official said on condition of anonymity.

"It was altered by Greek hands," the official said but did

not say who might have been responsible for the change.

A second court official confirmed the information. Both said

the fact that the names were on the list did not mean the

account holders had done anything illegal.

Papaconstantinou issued a statement strongly denying he

tampered with the list.

"I have in no way tampered with the evidence," said the

former socialist minister. "If there are any accounts on the

list concerning members of my wider family, I did not know this

until today... I will not be turned into a scapegoat in this


But Papaconstantinou's own Socialist PASOK party expelled

him from its ranks, saying he had mishandled the case.

"An obvious and enormous issue of responsibility arises for

Mr. Papaconstantinou, who handled the issue in the worst

possible way," said PASOK in a statement on Friday. "It is clear

that Mr. Papaconstantinou is no longer part of PASOK."

Papaconstantinou, whose wife is Dutch, is currently in the

Netherlands where he usually spends Christmas, a person close to

him told Reuters.

Papaconstantinou served as finance minister from October

2009 to June 2011. He testified in parliament in October that he

had passed about 20 names in the list to the financial crimes

squad for checks. Drawing jeers from MPs, he said he then handed

a CD with the data to an aide who appeared to have misplaced it.


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.

France originally handed over the list to Athens in 2010.

But former Greek government officials did little to act on it,

fuelling public anger and prompting suspicion that some names

were erased before it was given to parliament earlier this year.

To put an end to the confusion, Greek prosecutors travelled

to Paris last week to re-obtain the original list. They spent

six days cross-checking the two documents to find out if any

names were removed.

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 in 2010.

"The Lagarde List affair reflects in the most eloquent way

the corruption, lawlessness and disease of the (political)

system," the main opposition radical leftist Syriza party said

in a statement.

Unlike other authorities around Europe who used the data to

pursue cases of suspected tax evasion, Greek authorities kept it

in their drawers.

Greece has so far failed to convict any prominent figures

for 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.

Austerity measures taken as part of the country's EU/IMF

bailout have wiped out a fifth of economic output, hammering

living standards.

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