Hiding behind formalities

By Nikos Konstandaras

The opportunistic combination of acting arbitrarily while proclaiming oneself a servant of procedure has proven very costly to all who got caught up in the Lagarde list fiasco, turning what should have been a simple tax collecting issue into a political scandal. This concerns not only former government officials but also their political rivals. Even as they improvise as if there are no institutions they must serve or procedures they must follow, they claim that their every action is dictated by respect for formalities. The result is that people see this for the excuse that it is and the political system’s credibility is undermined further.

Former Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou claims that he did not register as an official document the list that he received from his then French counterpart, Christine Lagarde, in 2010 because it concerned “illegal and stolen data from a Swiss bank,” as he told Parliament yesterday. If he wanted to protect his ministry, it is tragically unfortunate for him that the original was lost, because, not being registered, it remained his responsibility. Now he is paying a higher price than he would have otherwise. Under this burden he must prove that he did not tamper with the list’s contents.

Former financial crimes squad chief Yiannis Diotis claims that in order to protect his service he copied the list and then handed the one memory stick to then Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos before destroying the other. Now, while sowing more confusion, he has to explain himself. Journalist/publisher Costas Vaxevanis, proclaiming his duty as a journalist, published a version of the list that turned out to have been tampered with; he also presented what he said was evidence that this version was created months before the list is known to have arrived in Greece. More confusion.

Venizelos, who now leads PASOK, which is part of the ruling coalition, is accused by opposition parties of not making use of the list to collect taxes. His answer is that he was expecting the financial crimes squad to do it, that his actions were dictated by his “respect for the service and on the basis of legality.” He adds that his rivals ignore the many measures that he took to crack down on tax evasion. His rivals, naturally, judge him by the result. And they go after him as a formality.

If all those involved did not believe they could hide behind the excuse that they are sticklers for formality, they would not act so arbitrarily: Those in government would see that no matter how suspect the origin of the list, it could still be used to gather taxes; those in opposition would try to show that they cared about improving tax collection rather than just scoring points against their rivals.

This story may still hold many surprises, but it has already shown that our politicians – both mainstream and “anti-systemic” ones – are still stuck in fruitless practices. This neither gathers taxes nor serves the truth.