Some Get Prizes, Others Jail: Kostas Vaxevanis and a Tale of Two Reporters
On the evening of October 27, the Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis was awakened by police who arrested him and hauled him off to jail. The charge? Hot Doc, the magazine he writes for and edits, published portions of the ‘‘Lagarde List” containing the names of 2,059 Greeks who allegedly spirited money out of the country and into the warm embrace of UK-based HSBC’s Swiss offices.
Vaxevanis was charged with the publication of private data, although only names, and not account numbers or amounts, were listed. Vaxevanis did not allege that anyone on the list was guilty of a crime, merely that an investigation into the matter was in order. The List has been the talk of Greece, although not its newspapers, for months.
Interestingly, a website run by Makis Triantafillopoulos (zougla.gr), published the same list just hours before Hot Doc. No arrests have been made in that case. Triantafillopoulos is widely regarded as having close ties to Greece’s ruling class.
The Lagarde List has a fascinating if brief history. Compiled by Christine Lagarde when she was Finance Minister in the Sarkozy Government, it is said to contain the names of over 22,000 individuals with hidden accounts from across Europe. It was given by Lagarde to members of the Greek government in 2010 and promptly ‘‘lost.” Since then, officials in Greece have been scrambling to find it. Several ministers claim they gave it to another minister in another department…
Since publication of the list on Friday, two men whose names appear on it, Leonidas Tzanis, a former Greek minister who had been under investigation, and Vlassis Kambouroglou, a wealthy businessman in the defense industry, have turned up dead, both apparent suicides.
Kostas Vaxevanis was released from jail on Monday, October 29.
Meanwhile, in France, with la rentrée in full swing, the season of awards is upon us.
The prestigious 2012 Louise Weiss Award for European Journalism has been given to Edouard Perrin for his film Les petits secrets des grandes entreprises. The TV2 documentary was made in conjunction with Panorama, the investigative magazine of BBC1, and is the basis for the Invisible Money series on GroundReport.
According to the prize committee, the documentary, which aired on May 11, 2012 is ‘‘an unprecedented investigation which revealed in copious detail the methods used to achieve what is shamefully called ‘fiscal optimisation.’ ”
The TV2 team had this to say upon receiving the award:
‘‘We were able to successfully reveal the opaque legal arrangements by which a multitude of large corporations subtract billions of Euros from their tax declarations. The investigation depicted in detail how this takes place with the complicity of Luxembourg’s government. We remain disappointed by the silence of our governments in dealing with the practices we revealed.”
On an angrier note, the documentarian Paul Moreira had this to say on his Facebook page: “I’m pissed. Edouard Perrin’s stunning investigation wins the Louise Weiss Prize and the Budget Ministry completely fails to react… Edouard showed how large European companies avoid paying taxes… We’re not talking about peanuts but tens of billions of Euros. It could give the Budget Ministry a few ideas. Obviously, it would require being a bit rude with the Luxembourgeois, who are, as everyone knows, people with impeccable manners.”
Two journalists, two wildly different scenarios for what are, essentially, facets of the same story – a story Europe’s leaders find simply too hot to touch, let alone discuss publicly. Vaxevanis could not ask for better publicity: his magazine is now known around the world. Perrin did a lot of work the old fashioned way, door to door, office to office, and he nailed the perpetrators in copious detail. Hats off to both gentlemen. Neither story is about to go away.