ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek prosecutors sent a list of possible tax cheats to parliament, court sources said, in a case that has highlighted Athens’ failure to crack down on the tax evasion that has contributed to 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 (HSBA.L) 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 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 prosecutors did not reveal if the initial list had been tampered with.
“They compiled a most detailed report that was submitted to the Greece’s highest civilian court with the request to be forwarded to parliament,” 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.
No names on any of the lists have been officially released yet. A Greek investigative journalist who published the names of 2,059 account holders allegedly on the Lagarde List was charged for breaching privacy laws.
“End the charade now and publish all the names,” the Communist KKE party said in a statement on Thursday.
Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Erica Billingham and Helen Massy-Beresford