The fragile Greek coalition government has for months been hammering its citizens by imposing cuts in salaries, pensions, health care and other services. In a week when they are due to negotiate with European finance ministers another euro loan tranche (about $41 billion) which they need to avoid bankruptcy and on the eve of their parliament voting to cut €100-200 from the salaries of civil servants, they were hit by another scandal.
They were severely exposed by an investigative journalist when he published the names of about 2000 Greeks who made $1.9 billion in deposits in the Swiss based HSBC bank and are being probed for tax evasion. The journalist, Kostas Vaxevanis, published the list in the Hot Doc magazine which was allegedly passed on to the Greek government by Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister in 2010 and now head of the International Monetary Fund, to help them crack down on rampant tax evasion as they were trying to steady their economy.
Greek citizens were always skeptical that political leaders will investigate the business elite, with whom they often have close ties. Vaxevanis has now given them the smoking gun and controversy is growing about the role of two former ministers who seem to have put the brake and taken no action for two years. The list included a former culture minister, several employees of the Finance Ministry and a number of business leaders.
The story turned into a farce when instead of going after the tax cheats, Greek authorities hounded and arrested the journalist in a move that tens of thousands of people followed on the Internet. Vaxevanis posted on his Twitter account how 15 officers accompanied by the prosecutor surrounded the house where he was staying “like Greek storm troopers in German uniforms” and arrested him. He was released some hours later but is due in court on November 1st.