Greece’s former finance minister George Papaconstantinou was allowed to walk free on Tuesday after a tribunal exonerated him over his handling of the infamous “Lagarde list” of wealthy Greeks with secret bank accounts abroad. The court – convened especially to try the former politician – also dropped felony charges against him for tampering with the document to remove the names of relatives from it. Instead he was found guilty of the lesser charge of committing a misdemeanour.
The former minister smiled as the presiding judge Nikos Passos said punishment would take the form of a one-year suspended sentence.
A 13-judge tribunal, in session for the first time since the late premier Andreas Papandreou was also tried before a special tribunal in 1991, said Papaconstantinou’s “prior life” as an upright citizen had been a mitigating factor. The 53-year-old, once the embodiment of hope and reform in Greece, had faced a life sentence if found culpable of breach of duty – the accusation made for failing to act on the list.
Standing before the panel in a dark suit, Papaconstantinou looked relieved as the judgment was read out.
“This is as close to an acquittal as would be possible in the circumstances,” a court official said.
Papaconstantinou had been handed the list of 2,062 Greeks with holdings in the Geneva branch of HSBC by Christine Lagarde, at that time his French counterpart, for the express purpose of pursuing tax evaders, but it was misplaced for two wears before a version of it on a memory stick was discovered in the hands of the next finance minister. A copy of the original was subsequently obtained from the French finance ministry.
As finance minister in late 2009, when Greece’s debt crisis erupted, Papaconstantinou was the architect of the harsh economic adjustment program that Athens was forced to enact in return for aid from the EU and International Monetary Fund. Unpopular measures, including spending cuts and tax rises, were enforced under his watch.
Papacontantinou said he had been deliberately framed when it emerged that three of his relatives had been removed from the list after he ordered the data to be transferred from a CD containing the original information to a USB memory stick. “Why would I just remove their names, which would look so suspicious, and no one else?” he was quoted as saying in testimony delivered during the trial.