November 2, 2012
This was the week Kostas Vaxevanis could have gone to jail, but emerged instead as a free man – and a hero. Last Saturday, the editor of Hot Doc magazine published a roll call of 2,059 wealthy Greeks alleged to have shifted well over a billion pounds to a bank in Switzerland. He was promptly arrested for breaching data protection laws, and faced five years in jail. Then judicial sense prevailed. The names that Mr Vaxevanis leaked are colloquially known as the Lagarde List, after Christine Lagarde handed them to Athens in 2010. Yet the leads have been dropped by the Greek government: one finance minister claimed to have lost the list, another that it was missing. To update Wilde: losing a few names of alleged tax avoiders is careless; losing 2,059 names might be deemed to be indicative of a political elite seeking to cover up the transgressions of its corporate friends (and, if the list is to be believed, some of its most senior members). In a country having to hack away at a historic budget deficit by making swingeing spending cuts, not tackling endemic tax avoidance by the rich is unsustainable and unfair. So let us propose a solution: rather than harass Mr Vaxevanis, the Athens government should give him one of the most important tasks in the country – cracking down on tax evasion. He has shown the necessary sleuthing, boldness and commitment to getting at the truth – which is a lot more than the politicians have done, and perfect qualifications for a tax collector. Greek journalism's loss would be the country's gain.