So, you're the desperately cash-starved Greek government, and you find out that more than 2,000 of your wealthiest citizens have Swiss bank accounts. Do you investigate to see if all these folks have been paying their taxes? Of course not! You arrest the journalist who published that information.
Kostas Vaxevanis, the editor of Hot Doc magazine, was taken into custody then released on Sunday for violating data privacy laws. The well-respected journalist got into hot water after he printed a copy of the so-called "Lagarde list", which then French finance minister Christine Lagarde passed to top Greek government officials in 2010 after it was leaked by an employee at HSBC bank in Geneva. Lagarde, now head of the International Monetary Fund, sent it to her Greek counterpart as a possible starting point for investigation into the country's notoriously lax system of tax collections.
The Hot Docs article redacts the amounts of money held in the Swiss accounts, but names top government officials, business people, doctors, lawyers and more.
Evasion and austerity
Coming as it does after several draconian rounds of austerity-driven cuts to salaries, pensions, health care and other government services, the fact that Greek officials had this list for two years and apparently made no effort to look for possible tax evasion is likely to further inflame public sentiment. As Vaxevanis said in a statement after his arrest: "Tomorrow in parliament they will vote to cut €100-200 in pay for the Greek civil servant, for the Greek worker, while at the same time most of the 2,000 people on the list appear to be evading tax by secretly sending money to Switzerland."
How serious is tax evasion in Greece? A recent study from the University of Chicago estimates the Greek government loses €28bn to it every single year.
One further irony: the Greek government may be in no hurry to investigate rich tax evaders, but it's moving like lightning to prosecute troublesome journalists. Vaxevanis is going on trial later this week.
In response to the absurdly fast government action against the Hot Doc editor, as well as other government actions to suppress freedom of information, many Greek media outlets are striking on Wednesday. The Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders has a list of cases of intimidation and violence against the Greek press.
Read more: A new survey published by global business consultancy BDO finds corporate finance managers believe Greece is a riskier place to invest than war torn Syria.
Sources: BBC, EU Observer, Avaaz, New York Times, Timaru Herald, University of Chicago, Ekathimerini