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Last updated: November 16, 2012 7:00 pm
The Athens prosecutor has ordered the retrial of Costas Vaxevanis, a Greek investigative journalist who was acquitted earlier this month of violating data privacy laws by publishing the names of 2,000 Greeks with bank accounts at a Swiss branch of HSBC.
The prosecutor’s office said on Friday the acquittal on November 1 was “legally flawed”, and Mr Vaxevanis would be tried again by a higher misdemeanours court. No date has been set for the new trial.
Mr Vaxevanis dismissed the decision as a “sick joke” that revealed underlying weaknesses in the Greek legal system.
”The prosecutor hasn’t given any reasoning for appealing the court’s decision,” he said. “I would like the retrial to be held as soon as possible so that we can finish with it and move on.”
The “Lagarde list“ of Greek account holders at HSBC’s Geneva branch was published last month in Hot Doc, the investigative magazine Mr Vaxevanis edits. The total amount in the accounts exceeded €6.5bn, but Hot Doc did not print details of amounts held by individual depositors.
The prosecutor’s unexpected move against Mr Vaxevanis prompted speculation that pressure had been exerted by politicians and prominent Greek businesspeople who face investigation for possible tax evasion because their names appeared on the list.
Harris Ikonomopoulos, the lawyer representing Mr Vaxevanis, said: “It’s unheard of for a prosecutor to appeal a judge’s decision unless the public interest is under threat . . . and in this case Mr Vaxevanis was serving the public interest.”
The case against Mr Vaxevanis was heard by a single judge under a fast-track procedure that was criticised at the time by the Athens bar association. It attracted a storm of international media attention, triggering questions in Greek legal circles over whether the judge could have been influenced by the presence of dozens of foreign journalists.
Yet those named on the list appeared to have ignored its publication, with the exception of three politicians who issued statements denying they had accounts at the HSBC branch in Geneva.
“None of those named in the list brought defamation charges against Mr Vaxevanis,” said Mr Ikonomopoulos.
Following Mr Vaxevanis’s acquittal, a Greek financial prosecutor asked parliament to investigate why two former finance ministers did not pursue possible tax evaders on the list.
George Papaconstantinou, one former finance minister, requested and received the list in 2010 from Christine Lagarde, then his French opposite number and now managing director of the International Monetary Fund. But Ioannis Kapeleris, the head of the financial police, testified that he was not instructed by Mr Papaconstantinou to pursue the matter. Evangelos Venizelos, the next minister, also allowed the issue to lapse.
Yannis Stournaras, the current finance minister, has asked French authorities to provide another official copy of the list in order to revive the investigation.
The issue of tax evasion by prominent Greeks has triggered widespread popular anger as Greece’s recession deepens. The financial police are examining transfers abroad by 54,000 Greeks in 2010-11 amounting to €22bn. At least 15,000 of these transactions are believed to involve tax evasion, according to the finance ministry.
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