In a shocking affront to democracy and freedom of speech, Greek prosecutors have ordered the immediate arrest of journalist Kostas Vaxevanis, according to reports by various media outlets and blogs in Greece. This comes after the publication of the so-called "Lagarde List," containing the names of 1,991 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, in Hot Doc, a weekly newsmagazine published by Vaxenis.
The "Lagarde List" was given to the former Greek Finance Minister, Giorgos Papaconstantinou, in the fall of 2010 by Christine Lagarde, the current head of the International Monetary Fund. At the time, Lagarde was France's finance minister. Though Greek authorities have possessed this list since 2010, they did not take any action to pursue investigations of tax evasion against the individuals on the list until earlier this month, when the existence of the list was revealed to the public.
These reports have surfaced after the issuance of a press statement by the Hellenic Police, available on its website, stating that a prosecutor has ordered his arrest and that an investigation is underway to discover the whereabouts of Vaxevanis in order to arrest him.
In a tweet posted Saturday evening by Vaxevanis, he stated that police were stationed outside the offices of Hot Doc, as well as outside his home and the homes of personal friends of his.
Vaxevanis is an experienced and well-regarded investigative journalist with a career spanning back to 1988. He has worked with several major media outlets in Greece as a war correspondent, and is now the publisher of Hot Doc.
While the official reason given by the Hellenic Police regarding the warrant issued against Vaxevanis is the violation of privacy laws relating to the personal information of the individuals on this list, the general opinion in Greece, particularly on the country's active blogosphere and social media landscape, is that Greek authorities are attempting to silence Vaxevanis and to "punish" him for publishing the Lagarde list. Notably, unofficial versions of the list have been circulating on the Internet in recent weeks, while yesterday evening, zougla.gr, a website run by journalist Makis Triantafillopoulos, published the list just hours before the special edition of Hot Doc containing the list reached newsstands. As of the time of this writing, no similar warrants have been issued against Triantafillopoulos, who in Greece is largely regarded as a politician with very close ties to the political ruling class, for publishing the list.
The warrant issued against Vaxevanis is not his first clash with the law this past week. Earlier this week, a lawsuit of 3 million Euro was filed against Vaxevanis by Olga Tremi, who presents the evening newscasts of Mega Channel, Greece's largest private television station. This lawsuit followed the publication of a story in Hot Doc which alleged that Tremi had ties with a defense contractor and had agreed to undertake the promotion of certain weapons systems.
This arrest comes at a turbulent time for Greece and its political system, as the Greek Parliament is preparing to vote on a third set of new and extremely unpopular austerity measures, with some members of the parties which comprise Greece's ruling coalition stating that they will vote against some or all of the proposed measures. These measures have come only three months after Greece's parliamentary elections, when New Democracy finished first, based on a campaign of renegotiating Greece's agreements with the so-called "troika" -- the IMF, the European Union, and the European Central bank. The new government has reneged on these promises and has experienced a corresponding decline in public opinion polls.
During this same period, the Greek government has stepped up its efforts against journalists and bloggers who have been critical of the government or leading institutions in the country. Last month, Hellenic police arrested a 27-year old blogger for maintaining a satirical page on Facebook against a deceased monk. Other journalists and activists have stated that threats have been made against them and that they are under visible surveillance.
The Lagarde list which was published in Hot Doc includes the names of numerous politicians and businesspeople who are in positions of power in Greece, as well as many family members and relatives of these individuals. Notably, while Supreme Court deputy prosecutor Nikos Pantelis on Friday asked for Parliament to be informed about the names of any politicians on the list, no legal action has been taken thus far against most of the individuals named in the list. Two individuals named in the list, Vlassis Kambouroglou and Leonidas Tzanis, have committed suicide in recent weeks. Kambouroglou was a former member of the Ministry of Defense whose name was implicated in cases of corruption and bribery, while Tzanis was a former Greek minister who was also under investigation.