Greece u-turns over ‘stolen’ Swiss tax data

Greece will use a CD allegedly containing details of citizens who have bank accounts in Switzerland to track down tax evaders, the finance minister said on Monday, after Athens previously dismissed the information as unusable.

Greece u-turns over 'stolen' Swiss tax data
File photo: A. Carlos Herrera

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told the Financial Times that Greece will work on it "as a priority."

"I first learned of (the CD's) existence from the newspapers," Stournaras said, adding that if the ministry's economic crimes unit SDOE could not track the data down "we'll ask our European partners for another copy".

Stournaras' comments came two weeks after deputy finance minister George Mavraganis told parliament that the material — apparently removed illegally by an HSBC bank employee in Switzerland — could be deemed "industrial espionage" and would therefore not be used.

Struggling to avoid bankruptcy since 2010, Greece has been trying to clamp down on perennial tax evasion and avoidance, but with limited success.

Stournaras last week said the ministry's fraud squad was investigating more than 30 cases involving the holdings and tax declarations of politicians, local council administrators and other senior public servants.

Among those under investigation whose names have been leaked to the press is parliament chief Evangelos Meimarakis, who has temporarily stepped down from his post.

The Bank of Greece was reported in July to have information on 403 Greeks who had moved at least €100,000 abroad in 2010, while claiming to have zero income.

And the finance ministry in February said Greeks had legally moved €16 billion ($21 billion) abroad in the last two years.

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Greece investigates Swiss pharma Novartis over bribery claims

Greece's justice minister on Tuesday promised a "swift and thorough" investigation into suspected corruption by civil servants and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

Greece investigates Swiss pharma Novartis over bribery claims
The Novartis building in Basel. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Stavos Kontonis ordered an inquiry after “denunciations concerning bribes paid to functionaries by Novartis” appeared in the press, a ministerial statement said.
“The judicial investigation will be swift and thorough,” it added.
According to a judicial source, a preliminary investigation has been going on for two months and around 178 people in Greece have been questioned.
The source said anti-corruption prosecutors had visited Novartis's premises near Athens to gather evidence.
The case gained attention in recent days following a suicide attempt in Athens on Sunday, New Year's Day, by a Novartis manager.
That attempt was thwarted by police and according to the judicial source, the manager was one of those questioned over corruption.
For its part Novartis issued a statement saying it was “aware of the media reports about our business practices” in Greece and that it was seeking more information and was cooperating with the authorities.
“Novartis is committed to the highest standards of ethical business conduct and regulatory compliance in all aspects of its work and takes any allegation of misconduct extremely seriously,” the company said in the statement.
The judicial source also claimed American FBI agents were in Athens to help Greek authorities investigate Novartis.
The Swiss pharmaceutical giant was investigated by US authorities in 2014, accused of paying bribes in order to boost sales of some of its medicines, and was later fined $390 million by the US Justice Department.