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GREECE

Former Greek PM George Papandreou linked to list of tax evaders

Newspapers say George Papandreou's mother is on notorious 'Lagarde list' of wealthy Greeks who stash their fortunes in Swiss bank accounts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 5:01am
 

Greece's civil war over naming and shaming suspected tax evaders intensified following reports that former prime minister George Papandreou's octogenarian mother was behind a Swiss bank account of mutual funds worth US$550 million.

Allegations that US-born Margaret Papandreou was on the "Lagarde list", identifying Greeks who had stockpiled fortunes in Switzerland, provoked uproar after two newspapers published the claims on Sunday.

Citing high-level officials at the crisis-hit country's financial crime squad, SDOE, the two weeklies, To Vima and Proto Thema, named Margaret Papandreou (pictured) as the primary beneficiary of one of the biggest accounts on the list of more than 2,000 wealthy Greeks with deposits in the Geneva branch of HSBC.

The American issued a vehement denial. "Why such lies? Why such attacks? Is it because my family never served this country's interest groups?"

As the furore deepened, Papandreou - who had four children, including George, with the late socialist prime minister Andrea Papandreou - received support from an unexpected corner. The editor of the magazine Hot Doc, which sent shockwaves through Greece by publishing the list in October, rushed to her defence, brushing off the allegation as a dirty tactic by media barons bent on settling old scores.

"The whole story is the product of rumour," he said. "It's a very dirty game. Instead of investigating who is on the list, which has sat in the office drawers of ministers for over two years, scenarios are now being created as to what names are behind the names on the list. The truth of the matter is that there are hundreds of offshore companies also on the list which should be looked into. This is about the press settling accounts. Margaret Papandreou is a victim."

The bank account to which Papandreou was allegedly linked is in the name of the "private employee" Maria Pandeli.

According to To Vima, Nikolaos Lekkas, the director of inspections at SDOE, raised the issue of the 89-year-old's involvement in the account at a meeting attended in October.

Lekkas had reportedly told colleagues that "behind the biggest account on the list is Mrs Margaret Papandreou". But in a statement to Hot Doc he denied the claim: "I never named people who are supposedly referred to, or involved, in any way with the aforesaid list."

George Papandreou, who navigated Greece through the worst of its debt woes after the economic crisis erupted within months of his socialist government assuming power in late 2009, slammed the allegations as part of a concerted campaign to besmirch the efforts he had made to rid the country of corruption.

His attempts to clean up public life included loosening ties between politicians and the media. Both stories were "rumours without facts", said the politician, who stepped down as prime minister and leader of the Pasok party last year.

As the recession-plagued country's plight has gone from bad to worse with austerity-whipped Greeks ever more angry with their lot, demands for punishment to be meted out have also got louder. No person is more associated with Greece's economic collapse than Papandreou, the first euro-zone prime minister to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund and other EU states as Greece was heading for bankruptcy.

"People want scapegoats and he is a very easy one," said a well-placed source. "I firmly believe he handled the crisis badly, but I do not for a moment believe this story about his mother being on the list. The owners of newspapers such as To Vima are furious with Papandreou for blocking their attempts to get loans from the Bank of Greece."

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