Greece Arrests the Messenger
October 29, 2012 | Editorial, NYT Opinion Pages
Greece’s slow and cumbersome justice system moved with stunning swiftness over the weekend to arrest and charge a respected investigative journalist who published a list of prominent people with Swiss bank accounts. Contrast that with the two years that Greek tax authorities sat on that same list after the French government, which had seized it in a criminal investigation, turned it over to Greece to determine whether some of those Swiss accounts were possibly linked to tax evasion.
Swiss bank accounts are legal, but they can easily be used to avoid paying taxes. Yet a succession of Greek governments, which had pledged to increase tax revenues, failed to investigate the matter. Thanks largely to the decision by the editor Kostas Vaxevanis to publish the list in Hot Doc magazine, several former finance ministers are struggling to explain why.
This list and other lists of offshore accounts in Greek government hands must be fully examined for illegal tax violations. But, so far, the only person charged with wrongdoing is Mr. Vaxevanis. He is accused of violating the privacy of the account holders and faces a possible one-year minimum jail sentence when his case comes to trial on Thursday. Whatever the intricacies of Greek privacy law, this case looks to us, and many other journalists, like selective, and vindictive, prosecution. In a welcome show of support, one of Greece’s leading dailies, Ta Nea, reprinted the list on Monday. The real scandal is the two years of government inaction — which may end as a result of this disclosure.
Recent studies have shown that the government may be losing nearly $40 billion a year from unpaid taxes. Recovering that money could allow Greece to meet its current budget targets without recourse to the additional spending cuts and tax increases now being debated.
Greek society has been fraying under the strains of three years of austerity programs that have shrunk its economy by 25 percent, left one in four workers unemployed and cut off health care benefits for the long-term unemployed. Greek democracy is also feeling the pressure, with voters deserting the traditional centrist parties for more radical alternatives on the far left and far right.
Mainstream Greek politicians have been shamefully quick to strip basic social services from the country’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. And they have been shamefully slow at probing possible tax evasion by the rich and well connected. Greece’s elected leaders need to pay more attention to investigating possible financial crimes and less to prosecuting journalists. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/30/opinion/greece-arrests-the-messenger.html?_r=0