The Greek Parliament is considering investigating four prominent governmental officials over information released about Greek citizens who had accounts at a Swiss bank.
ATHENS, Greece – Greece's Parliament was to vote late Thursday on whether to launch criminal investigations into two former prime ministers and two finance ministers over how leaked data about Greek citizens who banked in Switzerland was handled.
The list was handed to Athens by French authorities in 2010 as Greece's economy was imploding. But Greek authorities failed to investigate the data for potential tax evasion, sparking outrage at a time of severe salary and pension cuts as well as spiraling unemployment.
All three parties in the governing coalition have said they are in favor of investigating former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, the main architect of Greece's first austerity program, for allegedly deleting the names of three of his relatives from the list and for breach of duty. If charged and convicted, the offenses could mean he goes to prison.
The main opposition left-wing Syriza party also wants the probe to include former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who currently heads one of the governing coalition parties, while the right-wing Independent Greeks also want investigations into former prime ministers George Papandreou and Lucas Papademos.
All four deny wrongdoing.
Papaconstantinou, who served as finance minister in 2009-2011, insisted he did not make any changes to the data and said he was the target of a vicious smear campaign.
"I did not tamper with the data. It is inconceivable that I would have acted in such a way that would so blatantly involve me," he said in Parliament. His relatives have since given evidence to authorities that the funds in the Swiss accounts were legal and taxed, he noted.
Venizelos, who succeeded Papaconstantinou as finance minister during a cabinet reshuffle in 2011, accused the opposition of trying to weaken the coalition government.
"Their goal is for the government to fall. That explains the degree of intensity against me," he said.
"Syriza is unable to handle its new role and the scale of its presence in parliament. Shame on you. You are out-of-control slanderers," he thundered, addressing the opposition lawmakers.
The list of about 2,000 Greeks with bank accounts in Switzerland is part of data on 24,000 customers allegedly stolen from the bank.
After about two years of inaction, the list emerged into the public eye again late last year when it was leaked to a magazine publisher, who then printed the names.
Greek authorities requested a new copy from France for fear their version had been doctored, and when it arrived it emerged that three of Papaconstantinou's relatives had been removed.
Papaconstantinou acknowledged the list should have been better handled, but insisted this was not a matter for a criminal investigation.
"Clearly the political responsibility is fully my own and it is clear that the issue should have been handled better," he said. "But it is unfortunate that my mishandling of this issue can be used an excuse for this process."
The case over the data, dubbed the 'Lagarde List' after the French finance minister of the time, Christine Lagarde, has riveted Greeks for weeks. The issue has expanded to involve two former heads of the financial crimes squad, who have appeared before prosecutors as suspects to explain their handling of the data and whether copies were made from one memory stick to another.
Papaconstantinou said he was at the "center of a crude effort" to fabricate guilty parties.
"I don't wish for anyone, not even my worst enemy, to live through what my family and I have lived through in the last few days," he said. "It is clear that some people want to make me a scapegoat."