UK & World News
Vaxevanis Cleared Over 'Lagarde List' Leak
A journalist arrested for publishing a "rich list" of some 2,000 Greek suspected tax evaders has been cleared of privacy breach charges.
A court in Athens freed Costas Vaxevanis, throwing out the case against him for publishing the names of Swiss bank account holders in a case that has led to claims of a cover-up by the country's political class.
Mr Vaxevanis, a celebrated investigative journalist and publisher of the Hot Doc magazine, faced at least a year imprisonment, plus a fine of 30,000 euro if convicted.
The 46-year-old insisted that the published list - which included prominent businessmen, politicians as well as housewives and beauticians - is the same one handed to Greek authorities two years ago by then French finance minister Christine Lagarde to chase down rampant tax evasion.
The list was initially leaked by an HSBC bank employee in Switzerland where the accounts - estimated at 1.5bn euro - were held.
French, German and Italian authorities have since then used them to pursue potential tax dodgers.
In publishing the list last week, Mr Vaxevanis made no suggestion that the 2,059 Greek holders of HSBC accounts in Geneva Switzerland were tax cheats.
Throughout the trial, the journalist's lawyers and a key political witness spoke of a "concerted political cover-up".
"This list was a tool that could have helped the state reap hundreds of millions of euro from potential tax evasion," said Zoe Konstantopoulou, a leftist lawmaker and member of a parliamentary commission investigating the case.
"It could have spared the country from seeking an international bailout and signing up to the punishing terms of austerity.
"Instead it was never fully exploited and the list itself has gone missing with one finance minister saying his staff misplaced it somewhere and the other laying blame on other officials."
She added: "Those who shelved the names should be prosecuted. Not the journalist who exposed them."
The prosecutor instead recommended Mr Vaxevanis' conviction, saying his move to publicise the list in question inflicted damage on the holders of the accounts.
The prosecutor said: "The timing could not have been worse - when a tired society is looking for blood, it was as if the defendant cast these people into a Roman arena."
With Greeks turning increasingly hostile against the political establishment, the case of Mr Vaxevanis has stoked public fury and turned the journalist into a hero for putting the public interest over personal data protection laws.
His acquittal came as Greek markets plunged amid fears of a new political crisis over austerity measures.
The country's fragile coalition government suffered a blow when to members of the Socialist party quit ahead of a key vote on 13.5bn euro in additional cuts and tax hikes over two years.
Greece's international creditors have insisted on the package in return for the continued payment of vital bailout cash Greece needs to avoid going bankrupt.