Greece charges three ex-ministers over tax evasion
A Greek prosecutor charged three former ministers yesterday (6 March) for failing to declare the source of their wealth, the latest high-profile politicians in legal trouble as public anger rises at a political class widely seen as corrupt.
Among them is Yannos Papantoniou, a prominent Socialist politician who was finance minister when Greece joined the euro in 2001. He faces misdemeanour charges for failing to disclose in 2008 that his wife had €2.2 million in deposits in a Swiss HSBC account.
Former Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis, 53, was also accused of hiding from the state that his wife had deposits of €117,000 in a foreign bank account in 2007.
Papantoniou and Voulgarakis both denied the charges, which stem from a probe into the so-called "Lagarde list" of potential tax evaders published that sparked an outcry among Greeks angry at a wealthy elite partly blamed for dragging the country to the brink of bankruptcy.
Both told a parliamentary committee looking into the Lagarde list of about 2,000 wealthy Greeks with money stashed abroad that the accounts belonged only to their wives.
Former Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas, a member of the ruling conservative party, was also charged with felony after the prosecutor refused to accept his explanation over the disappearance of €1 million from his bank account in 2010, court officials said.
Doukas, 60, has denied any wrongdoing. He has said the money was transferred to an investment account, which was declared in his income statement.
Greek politicians are required under law to declare the origin of their wealth after parliament toughened legislation in 2010 soon after its debt crisis erupted.
In the highest-profile conviction of a politician in decades, a court sentenced former defence minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos to eight years in prison earlier this week for false income statements in 2006-2009 and for failing to declare a neo-classical mansion when he bought it in 2009, the court said.
Once a powerful socialist politician who came within reach of becoming prime minister in the 1990s, Tsohatzopoulos has denied wrongdgoing and plans to appeal.
Greece's coalition government has played up cracking down on high-level tax evasion and fraud as a top priority as it faces a backlash from an austerity-hit public.
Five years after the crisis started, people in Greece concede that the government's austerity plans do not aim merely to fix the economy, but to fundamentally alter the country's political system.
Unemployment in 2009 was estimated at 9.6%. Today, the country has the highest rate of unemployment in the EU, with an official figure of 27%. That means 1.5 million people are out of work. Three and a half million people live below the official poverty line and 35% of all workers are unable to clear their mortgages and bank loans.