With astonishing haplessness, Greece has called into question both its cry for financial help from the rest of the world and its dedication to a free press.
Two years ago, then-French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who is now head of the International Monetary Fund, gave her Greek counterpart a list of more than 2,000 Greek citizens who had accounts in the Swiss bank HSBC.
Although such accounts are legal, the French government provided the list so that Greek officials could determine whether its citizens had paid taxes on the money in those accounts. Euro-zone countries are conditioning aid to the indigent Greek government on its willingness to get tough on tax evaders.
The Greek government did not act on the list. The names on it stayed under wraps until last week, when the Greek magazine Hot Doc published it.
The Swiss account holders included business leaders, doctors, lawyers, actors, and architects, as well as several finance ministry officials. The biggest name on the list was that of the speaker of Greece’s parliament.
The day the list was published, a Greek court issued a warrant for the arrest of the owner and editor of Hot Doc. He is charged with violating the privacy of the people named on the list.
Greece has been on the dole for two years. Other European nations are considering yet another $17 billion bailout loan to Greece, conditioned on its observation of austerity conditions, including its willingness to ensure that its citizens pay taxes.
The question of a country’s rich citizens taking their money overseas, rather than investing it in their own country, is sensitive everywhere, including in the United States.
Although today’s economy is indisputably global, the Athens government cannot continue to allow its citizens to avoid paying taxes, while its leaders appeal for yet another bailout from its European neighbors.