A vote on whether to put two ex-finance ministers and two former prime ministers before a parliamentary inquiry over their handling of the Lagarde list of depositors dragged late into Thursday night after a day of intense political clashes and debate over the technicalities of the ballot.
MPs were expected to have voted by about 9 p.m. on Thursday but a dragged-out debate and disagreement over the content of ballot papers meant that the results of the vote, which were expected to lead to ex-Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou facing a parliamentary probe in connection to his alleged tampering with the list, were not likely to be known before midnight.
Papaconstantinou was set to face a preliminary judicial inquiry over accusations that he removed the names of three relatives from a list of more than 2,000 Greeks who had accounts at the Geneva branch of HSBC.
If more than 151 lawmakers agree, the panel of 12 deputies will probe the affair and decide whether there is enough evidence to suggest that any criminal offenses have been committed by Papaconstantinou or others. The committee will then deliver its findings to Parliament, which will be called on to vote again to decide whether the politicians should have their immunity from prosecution lifted.
Speaking to Parliament several hours ahead of last night’s vote, Papaconstantinou insisted that he was the victim of “a crass and blatant attempt at incrimination.” He repeated his claims that he had not tampered with the Lagarde list and had no motive to remove the names of his three relatives who held accounts at the Geneva branch of HSBC.
“Such an action would be against my principles but also stupid,” he told lawmakers. “Would I just remove the names of my three relatives in such a way that would immediately incriminate me?”
Papaconstantinou suggested that he was being made a scapegoat because he had attempted to fight corruption when he was finance minister and because the political system was looking for a way to absolve itself of it sins.
“I refused to do favors for a lot of people while I was finance minister,” he said. “There are lots of people with whom I clashed.”
Thursday proved a tense day in Parliament after the government decided to back down on the procedure it wanted the House to follow for the evening vote. Apart from the coalition’s proposal that MPs should vote on Papaconstantinou, SYRIZA wanted a vote on whether Papaconstantinou and Venizelos should face an inquiry, while Independent Greeks and Golden Dawn proposed that these two plus Papandreou and Papademos be questioned by lawmakers.
The government had wanted three separate votes to be held but SYRIZA insisted that there should be just one, with MPs voting on the future of each of the four politicians. But Venizelos announced early Thursday that the government would relent. Discussions took place early Thursday as the government looked for alternatives to its proposal.
Given that Democratic Left had made it clear it would vote on SYRIZA’s proposal for Venizelos and Papaconstantinou to face a parliamentary inquiry and that a number of New Democracy and PASOK MPs had expressed major reservations about the intention to hold three separate votes, it became clear that the coalition risked a public relations disaster by sticking to its original plan.
SYRIZA had wanted the single vote but with four ballots as they felt this would allow government MPs to be freer to vote not just for Papaconstantinou to face an inquiry but perhaps Venizelos and Papandreou as well.
The turnaround in the government’s position did not come about smoothly. Evangelos Meimarakis, a former ND minister, insisted up to the last minute that Parliament would adopt the government’s proposal for three votes as it was backed by a majority of MPs. Some conservative lawmakers who had also publicly defended this position over the last few days also felt let down.