Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Athens shoots the messenger

Financial Times
October 31, 2012

That the investigative journalist and editor Costas Vaxevanis is being put in the dock today for publishing a list of 2,000 Greeks with alleged Swiss bank accounts testifies to the moral bankruptcy of the Greek political class.

The list in question was given to the Greek government two years ago by the then French finance minister, Christine Lagarde. There is no suggestion that all those on the list necessarily have evaded Greek taxes through their Swiss accounts; moreover, the list only covers accounts at a single Geneva-based bank branch. But if, as Mr Vaxevanis and others suggest, the list was shelved and no investigation carried out into the account holders’ fiscal probity, it is a scandal compounded by the misjudged decision to shoot the messenger.

Mr Vaxevanis is charged with violating data protection laws. Whether or not he technically did so, there can be no doubt that he and Hot Doc, his magazine, have acted in the utmost public interest – more than can be said about the state now persecuting him. The judge must set Mr Vaxevanis free.

It was clear from the very start of Athens’ debt crisis that its tax system – if it can be called that – needed complete reform. Greece’s political economy has been based on making outsiders pay for privileges enjoyed by the clients of the main political parties and borrowing abroad to top up. A tax system in which insiders hardly pay and compliant outsiders receive shoddy public services is just the most visible case of political rot.


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