Greek MPs vote to probe ex-Finance Minister Papaconstantinou over Lagarde list 'tampering'
Greek lawmakers voted overwhelmingly early Friday for ex-Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou to face a parliamentary inquiry to answer charges that he tampered with the Lagarde list of depositors.
The majority of MPs also voted not to take any further action against Papaconstantinou’s successor and current PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, as well as ex-prime ministers George Papandreou and Lucas Papademos.
A total of 265 of 300 lawmakers voted in favour of Papaconstantinou being probed. Only 124 voted for Venizelos, which is less than the total of opposition MPs, which amounts to 136. Eighty lawmakers cast ballots for Papandreou and 63 for Papademos.
Papaconstantinou is accused of removing the names of three of his relatives from the list, which contained more than 2,000 Greeks with large deposits at the Geneva branch of HSBC. He has also been criticized for failing to ensure that authorities investigated the list, which contains deposits of some 2 billion euros, for possible tax evaders.
The process of voting for Papaconstantinou to face an inquiry proved far from a straightforward affair.
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 vote did not take place until after midnight. The results were not known until about 2 a.m. on Friday. Given that the debate over the voting procedure and the merits of each party’s proposals for who should face the parliamentary inquiry started at about 10 a.m. on Thursday, it proved to be a marathon session.
Tempers flared a number of times as Venizelos and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras clashed over the handling of the list and other political differences. Venizelos accused Tsipras of trying to make political gains by tainting the PASOK leader, while the SYRIZA chief alleged that the former finance minister was trying to dodge his responsibilities for failing to investigate the content of the list when he was in office.
The parties also clashed over the details of the vote. The coalition government had proposed that MPs should vote just on whether Papaconstantinou should face an inquiry. SYRIZA wanted Venizelos included in the ballot, while Independent Greeks and Golden Dawn called for Papandreou and Papademos to be added.
The coalition’s initial plan to hold separate votes for each of the proposals was dropped after the morning debate in favor of the SYRIZA-backed plan for holding one vote with four ballot boxes, one for each of the politicians.
In the end, many New Democracy and PASOK MPs cast votes in just one of the box to emphasize their opposition to SYRIZA’s effort to make Venizelos face a parliamentary committee. Of New Democracy’s 125 MPs, 37 voted in just one of the ballot boxes, the one bearing Papaconstantinou’s name. All of PASOK’s deputies voted just for Papaconstantinou to face the parliamentary inquiry, apart from Theodora Tzakri.
Following the vote, Papaconstantinou is set to face a preliminary judicial inquiry, which will question him about his handling of the list. The panel of 16 deputies will probe the affair and decide whether there is enough evidence to suggest that any criminal offenses have been committed by Papaconstantinou. 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. It has been suggested that the panel should deliver its findings by February 25.
Speaking to Parliament several hours ahead of the 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.”
Meanwhile, a judicial investigation into the Lagarde list is continuing. Aides of Papaconstantinou and financial crimes squad Yiannis Diotis are expected to give evidence over the next few days regarding the copying and disappearance of a CD and a memory stick containing the list.
On Thursday, financial prosecutors Grigoris Peponis and Spyros Mouzakitis send 120 pages of witness statements from their probe to Parliament.