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Thursday, 05 December 2019

Greek ex-minister faces life in tax evasion test trial

AFP , Wednesday 25 Feb 2015
Greece's former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou listens to reporters' questions inside a ministry hall in Athens, May 7,2011. (Source: Reuters)
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A former Greek finance minister went on trial Wednesday for allegedly shielding relatives hiding money in Switzerland, in a case closely watched for proof that the eurozone straggler is serious about tackling tax evasion.

George Papaconstantinou, 53, faces a maximum of life in prison if the special tribunal finds him guilty of deleting in 2010 the names of family members from a list of 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts at British bank HSBC.

This list was sent to him by Christine Lagarde, International Monetary Fund chief and at the time French finance minister -- hence its nickname the "Lagarde List" -- who in turn received it from an HSBC whistleblower.

Papaconstantinou, in office from 2009-10 and no longer in politics, said nothing to reporters as he arrived at the Athens court early on Wednesday. Judicial sources said he entered a plea of not guilty.

The high-profile trial comes as left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, elected last month, seeks to fill depleted government coffers and reduce inequality by making Greece's rich elite cough up their fair share of taxes.

This, together with pledges to clamp down on corruption and make government more efficient, were key planks in proposed reforms that on Tuesday convinced Greece's creditors to extend its 240-billion-euro ($270-billion) bailout.

Similar revelations to the "Lagarde List" have in recent years revealed prominent figures in Europe hiding money in Switzerland, leading to pressure on the Alpine country to dismantle its decades-old tradition of banking secrecy.

HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, has also found itself in hot water after claims earlier this month that it helped clients in more than 200 countries dodge taxes on accounts containing 180 billion euros ($205 billion).

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