With exemplary haplessness Greece has managed in one fell swoop to call into question both its cry for financial help from the rest of the world and its dedication to freedom of the press.
Two years ago, France, in the form of then Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who is now head of the International Monetary Fund, passed to the Greek finance minister a list of 2,059 Greeks who had accounts in the Swiss bank HSBC. Although it is legal for Greeks to have Swiss accounts, the French privately provided the list so that the Greek government could determine if its citizens had paid taxes on the money in those accounts. One of the conditions that eurozone countries have put on the aid to the indigent Greek government is that it crack down on tax evaders.
Successive Greek governments have not acted on the list and its names stayed under wraps until last Saturday, when the Greek magazine Hot Doc published it. The Swiss account holders included business leaders, doctors, lawyers, actors and architects as well as several Ministry of Finance officials. The biggest name on the list was Speaker of the Parliament Giorgos Voulgarakis.
The same day the list was published a Greek court issued a warrant for the arrest of Kostas Vaxevanis, the owner and editor of Hot Doc. He is charged with violating the privacy of those on the list.
The timing is extraordinary. Greece has been on the dole for two years and the other Europeans are considering yet another $17 billion bailout loan to it, conditioned on Greece's observation of austerity conditions, including ensuring that its citizens pay taxes.
The question of a country's rich citizens taking their money overseas, as opposed to investing it in their own country, is sensitive everywhere, including in the United States. In defense of the practice is the indisputable fact that today's economy is global.
Nonetheless, it is aggravating to the Athens government if the purpose of the Greeks in question is to avoid paying taxes, while their leaders appeal for yet another bailout from their European neighbors.