Greek journalist Costas Vaxevanis on trial over bank list

The BBC's Mark Lowen asks Costas Vaxevanis why he published the list

Journalist Costas Vaxevanis has gone on trial in Athens for breach of privacy after publishing the names of 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts.

French authorities gave the names to their Greek counterparts two years ago, but documents were never investigated.

Mr Vaxevanis told the BBC that politicians should be prosecuted for keeping the names secret.

But Greek officials have said there is no proof that those on the list have broken the law.

Mr Vaxevanis, 46, published the list in Hot Doc, the weekly magazine he edits.

He is accused of breaking private data rules and faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

'Accused without reason'

In court Mr Vaxevanis' lawyers began their defence by arguing that not a single person on the list had actually complained of privacy violation.

"He's being accused without reason," lawyer Nicos Constantopoulous said.

Some of those named in the list, said to include many prominent Greeks, are suspected of using the HSBC accounts in Switzerland for tax evasion.

Mr Vaxevanis says the list he published is the same one that was given by the then French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to her Greek counterpart two years ago.

Analysis

Many here feel that press freedom itself is on trial today. There has been huge public support for Costas Vaxevanis since he published this list, and widespread horror that successive governments here seem to have sat on the information for two years without following it up.

It's reignited suspicions that tax evasion and corruption run to the very top of Greek society.

Concerns about government interference in the media have grown this week after two presenters on state television were axed from their morning show when they questioned the position of a minister.

One of them, Marilena Katsimi, told me Greece was in a "very dangerous situation" with "an authoritarian government".

"We're in a financial crisis but we're also in a crisis of democracy," she said. And that in the very place where democracy was born.

Greek officials say the list originally came from a former HSBC employee.

The names on the list are said to include politicians, businessmen and others, sparking fury among ordinary Greeks as they are hit by deep austerity measures, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Athens.

The issue has revived claims that tax evasion remains rife in Greece, and that the authorities still are not serious about tackling it, our correspondent adds.

Greece is being urged by international lenders to crack down on tax evasion as part of far-reaching reforms demanded in exchange for billions of euros of bailout money.

'Mockery'

Mr Vaxevanis said he had published the list "because I'm a journalist and it's our job to tell the truth to the people".

"The three last governments have lied and have made a mockery of the Greek people with this list," he said.

"They were obliged to pass it to parliament or to the justice system. They didn't do it and they should be in prison for it."

Mr Vaxevanis said he thought the government had not acted on the list because it included friends of ministers, businessmen and powerful publishers.

He also accused much of the Greek media of ignoring the story.

"The Greek press is muzzled," he said. "There is a closed system of power in Greece, wielded by the political elite, businessmen and journalists."

"If I need to go to prison I will do," he added. "Not because I'm a hero, but to show the injustice of what is happening in Greece."

Among those testifying in support of Mr Vaxevanis is the president of the International Federation of Journalists, Jim Boumelha.

"We were all astonished by what's happened... I came here to testify in order to try to unravel this absurd farce," he said.

"[This] doesn't happen in many countries and for that reason the International Federation of Journalists is asking for the charges to be dropped."

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