In 2010, Christine Lagarde, then the Finance Minister of France, handed her Greek counterpart Giorgos Papakonstantinou a list of about 2,000 Greek citizens with large deposits in the Geneva branch of HSBC.
But when Papakonstantinou later passed the list to the Greek Financial and Economic Crime Unit, there were just 10 names on it.
The next Greek finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, sat on the ‘Lagarde List’ during his term and took no action.
But word of the list spread. Outraged Greeks, already burdened by recession, joblessness and rising inflation, took to the streets. When Yannis Stournaras was sworn in as finance minister in July this year, he vowed to find the list and turn it over to police.
The three finance ministers have theatrically blamed each other for the inaction. Thanos Veremis, a Greek professor and co-author of a history of modern Greece, said the Lagarde List brought out fear in politicians who might be accused of complicity — “so they behave accordingly.” Reports have said that as much as €1.5 billion is being hoarded in the Swiss branch of HSBC.
Earlier this month, the Greek media published a shorter list of 36 politicians who are being investigated for corruption. One of them, Leonidas Tzanis, hung himself in the basement of his home. And businessman Vlassis Kambouroglou, implicated in a corrupt contract involving Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, was found dead in a hotel room in Indonesia.
The handling of the Lagarde List — both the comedy and tragedy of the saga — shows how hard it will be for any government in Greece to muster the courage and will needed to rescue the country from political and economic chaos.
Melanie Lansakara is a researcher for the FCPA Blog members area