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Remember Greece?The infamous “Lagarde List” saga has the potential to drag it back into the spotlight tomorrow.
The original list – which reportedly contains the names of around 2000 Greeks with bank accounts at the Swiss branch of HSBC – was leaked to the media in late October.
However, sceptics of the version of the list that was made public are concerned by the fact that it took Evangelos Venizelos – the leader of the Greek PASOK political party and former Greek finance minister – nearly two years to hand the list of names over to the police, despite having received it from then-French finance minister and now IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde all the way back in 2010.
In other words, there was ample opportunity to tamper with or modify the list during that time, and there is a possible motive for such tampering as well: if the list contained names of prominent members of PASOK, it would highlight the hypocrisy of the party that has been at the helm of the Greek government for the majority of the euro crisis as the country’s economy has spiraled into the abyss – in part due to the Greek government’s inability to collect revenues from tax evaders hiding their riches offshore.
These concerns prompted the new Greek government – in which PASOK still plays a prominent role in the ruling coalition but is no longer in charge – to request and obtain another copy of the original list from the authorities in Paris in recent days.
This week, investigators in Greece’s SDOE financial crimes unit have been poring over the new list, cross-checking names and balances with those on the old list.
Today, Reuters reports that SDOE has concluded its investigation and has handed the list over to parliament. Pending the publication of the results of the probe, there are two big open questions: what will the results of the investigation show, and how damning could they prove to be for a fragile Greek coalition trying to guide the country through contentious reforms demanded by international creditors in exchange for loans that will keep Greece from the edge of bankruptcy?
This week, Greek newspaper Proto Thema reported that the new copy of the Lagarde List may contain nearly 600 names that didn’t appear on the version that Venizelos submitted to the police earlier this year. However, that report hasn’t been verified.
Yet the report certainly heightens the anxiety for PASOK and the Greek government as the public awaits the results of this week’s investigation.
Nikos Konstandaras, managing editor of Athens newspaper Kathimerini, reports that the results of the probe are expected to be published Friday, and he says the event “could have consequences far more serious than those feared by the officials who first handled the issue two years ago.”
In his piece, Konstandaras writes:
With PASOK in the eye of the storm, at a time when it is a crucial member of the governing coalition, any revelations that will burden the once mighty party may threaten the government’s cohesion. At such a dangerous moment, then, it is inconceivable that the present handling of the issue should leave room for further suspicion.
Regardless of what the new list contains, though, Konstandaras has a scathing critique of the current government and its handling of the ongoing case:
From the start, the issue fuelled citizens’ cynicism, from the way PASOK’s finance ministers and financial crimes squad leaders handled it to today’s officials – whose extreme caution, on the one hand, and delays, on the other, have allowed the spread of rumours, new leaks and the further undermining of confidence in the political system.
Whatever the list has been hiding, its contents would not have been so dangerous as the handling of the issue has proved. But people’s suspicions are based on a deep-rooted lack of trust. When everyone knows the level of tax evasion, while at the same time being called on to pay higher and higher taxes, no one believes what they are told is true. And so the Lagarde list becomes another crystal ball, in which we look to see not what is there but what we expect to see.
The upshot: keep an eye on Greece tomorrow. At this stage in the game, the situation has the potential to take an explosive turn.