Greek journalist tried over Swiss bank list

  • World
  • Thursday, 01 Nov 2012

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek lawyers launched their defence of a prominent journalist on Thursday charged with breaking private data rules after he published the names of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks believed to be holding Swiss bank accounts.

The printing of the "Lagarde List" by magazine editor Costas Vaxavanis has touched a nerve in almost-bankrupt Greece, where rampant tax evasion is undermining a struggle to cut public costs and raise revenue under an EU/IMF bailout deal.

His speedy arrest and trial following publication at the weekend has enraged many here already furious over consecutive governments' failure to crack down on a rich elite, who they blame for years of recession that has wiped out a fifth of economic output and hammered middle-class living standards.

Vaxevanis, editor of the "Hot Doc" weekly, was surrounded by fellow journalists and other supporters who packed the Athens courtroom as his lawyers began their defence.

They argued the prosecution had charged him without any of those on the list having filed a complaint about privacy violation, a rare occurance in a freedom of speech or defamation case in Greece.

"He's been accused without reason," said Nicos Constantopoulous, his lawyer and a former leftist politician. "The principles of a fair trial are not being followed."

Under Greek laws covering sensitive data, a defendant must stand trial within 48 hours if arrested within a day of charges being filed in absentia. Vaxevanis faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

He has said he received the list, named after International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde who gave it to authorities in several EU countries in 2010 when she was French finance minister, from an anonymous source.

Another newspaper, daily Ta Nea, also published the 2,059 names, which includes several politicians as well as many businessmen, shippnig magnates, doctors, lawyers and housewives, over 10 pages.

It said the accounts had held about 2 billion euros until 2007 but also made clear that there was no evidence any of them had broken tax evasion laws.

(Writing by Michael Winfrey)

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