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Greece to probe former finance minister over tax list scandal

Greece's ex-Finance minister involved in tax evasion scandal

Reuters, Friday 18 Jan 2013
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Greece's parliament voted early on Friday to probe former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou for his role in a scandal over a list of potential tax evaders that has rattled the fragile ruling coalition.

In a relief for the government, Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos, a former finance minister and one of three coalition leaders, escaped an inquiry into his handling of the list after lawmakers voted by a wide margin against the move.

A motion to investigate former prime ministers Lucas Papademos, a technocrat, and George Papandreou, a Socialist, was also defeated in the late-night parliamentary vote.

The "Lagarde list" of about 2,000 Greeks with money stashed in Switzerland has exploded into the latest political scandal in Greece, with many angry that successive governments failed to pursue those on the list while heaping austerity cuts on everyone else.

Tax evasion is a major problem in Greece, which tumbled into unsustainable debt by years of spending more than it brought in.

Twists and turns in the scandal - including revelations that the list was misplaced, locked away in a cabinet, copied and tampered with - have further tainted a political class widely seen as corrupt and to blame for the nation's financial crisis.

Only the motion to investigate Papaconstantinou - expelled from the socialist PASOK party after names of three of his relatives were deleted from the list - was expected to pass since it was backed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government. 265 out of 294 lawmakers backed the motion in the vote.

Samaras has resisted calls by the opposition Syriza party to support a probe into his fellow coalition leader Venizelos, who was given the list when he succeeded Papaconstantinou in the finance minister post but took no action on it.

"Just like the Mafia, you abandon the weakest link to the dogs to cover up the case," Syriza's 38-year old leader Alexis Tsipras said before the vote.

"They kept the file a well-kept secret at a time when they raided wages and pensions, claiming that they had no other choice," said Zoe Konstantopoulou, another Syriza deputy.

A motion to investigate former prime ministers Papademos, a former European Central Bank deputy president, and Papandreou, of PASOK, failed to attract broader support since being proposed by the right-wing Independent Greeks and far-right Golden Dawn parties.

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