Ex-FinMin denies knowing that relatives were on Lagarde list

Giorgos Papaconstantinou denied knowing that a list of Greek depositors at a Swiss branch of HSBC delivered to Athens by French authorities during his tenure at the Finance Ministry in 2010 contained the names of three of his relatives.

Speaking on the NET Week news show on Monday night, Papaconstantinou — who received the list from ex-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde — said that he had handed the CD with the list of some 2,000 depositors without scrutinizing it to a close associate who had orders to single out the names with the biggest deposits in order to ascertain whether there was cause to launch more detailed investigations into possible tax evasion.

Papaconstantinou declined to give the name of the aide to whom he handed the list, but said that he would do so if ordered by a parliamentary inquiry.

The former finance chief denied knowing that the original list contained the details of three bank accounts at HSBC in Geneva held by relatives of his, which later went missing from the original list but were on a subsequent document delivered in December to Greek authorities by France following concerns that the original list may have been tampered with.

Papaconstantinou told NET Week that he has his suspicions as to who may have doctored the original list, but added that he will not be naming any names until he has more proof.

Papaconstantinou did concede that his handling of the original list was “not ideal,” but repeated that his aides were not to blame as they were simply “following orders.”

He said that he had requested the original list from the French authorities himself in late 2010, when the head of the Greek intelligence unit EYP informed him of its existence.

Once the CD with the information was delivered to him, Papaconstantinou said, he handed it over to an associate and asked for a shortlist of 20 names that justified further investigation due to the size of their deposits. Asked why he failed to follow protocol in handing over the CD by registering the exchange, he said that he thought it unnecessary as the list was confidential and could not be copied for the record.

Papaconstantinou said that his associate later informed him that the list contained deposits of a total of some 2 billion euros, half of which was in the names of just 20 depositors. He went on to say that he gave this shortlist of 20 names to the head of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) Yiannis Diotis so that the information could be cross-checked with their tax declarations. He also said that he had informed then-Prime Minister George Papandreou of his actions and was told to proceed with his line of investigation.

Asked why he did not give Kapeleris the entire list, Papaconstantinou said that a previous list of Greek depositors in Lichtenstein had taken SDOE 14 months to investigate and suggested that he did not trust the service to handle such a large amount of information.

According to Papaconstantinou when Kapeleris came back to him about three months later with evidence that there was cause for further investigation, he gave him the full original list copied onto a USB memory stick to Kapeleris’s successor Yiannis Diotis.

Once Papaconstantinou was replaced at the Finance Ministry by Evangelos Venizelos, he said that he considered the list to be in the possession of SDOE and said he felt he had no reason to brief his successor on the matter as it was the responsibility of Diotis to do so.