Missing List of Greeks With Swiss Accounts Causes Stir
Can a memory stick bring down a political order? That is the question in Greece, where a tragicomic debate over what became of a list of nearly 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts is rapidly turning into a full-blown political crisis that is imperiling Greece’s fragile coalition government at a crucial time.
When the Greek finance minister and one of his predecessors said last month that the list was missing — and another former finance minister then said he had belatedly handed it over to the authorities — the story was seen as an almost laughable caper. But amid other high-profile corruption investigations that have opened in recent weeks, it assumed a darker cast. On Thursday, a former deputy interior minister — who according to the Greek news media was under investigation for corruption himself — was found dead in what appears to have been a suicide.
As the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras struggles to agree on a package of austerity measures to secure the foreign financing the country needs to stay afloat — and ahead of Tuesday’s expected visit to Athens by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — the corruption investigations are seen as a gloves-off fight, with politicians breaking allegiances in a destabilizing climate of suspicion and even blackmail.
“What we see unfolding in the political system is a tragedy with elements of low comedy,” said Pantelis Boukalas, a columnist for the newspaper Kathimerini.
The same people singled out in the investigations are in the parties that form the pillars of Mr. Samaras’s government — a government blessed and supported by European leaders — and it remains to be seen how much self-examination, and how many criminal charges, it will take before the entire structure collapses.
As the investigations gain momentum, the relationship between the Socialists and Mr. Samaras’s New Democracy party, “is that of the scorpion and the frog,” Mr. Boukalas said. “It’s in their nature for one to sting the other” until both sink.
“They might be forced allies now, but each other’s value is based on the devaluation of the other,” he added. “However, if the Socialists completely fall apart, there goes the government; New Democracy and Democratic Left alone cannot hold it together,” a reference to a smaller third party in the coalition.
The investigations have also revealed the close ties between Greece’s political establishment and its oligarchs and business elite. There is growing public outrage that no Greek government wanted to touch the infamous list of 1,991 Greeks with accounts at a Geneva branch of the global bank HSBC [ HBC 47.30 ] that the French government gave Greece in 2010 to crack down on tax evasion.
After Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told the Financial Times last month that the list appeared to have gone missing in the Finance Ministry, one of his predecessors, George Papaconstantinou, gave an interview on Greek television saying that he had received the list in late 2010 from Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister and now the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. He said he had given a handful of names from the list to the chief of Greece’s financial crimes unit in early 2011 and the full list to that official’s successor, Ioannis Diotis, in June of that year.
Speaking to Parliament’s ethics committee last week, Mr. Diotis said he had received a memory stick with the names from Mr. Papaconstantinou in June 2011, the month the finance minister left office. Mr. Diotis said that he had passed the list to Mr. Papaconstantinou’s successor, Evangelos Venizelos, the current Socialist leader, but that Mr. Venizelos had not instructed him to investigate it. Mr. Diotis also suggested that the list appeared to have been obtained illegally and might not have been usable in an investigation.