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GREECE

Athens to crack down on Swiss bank tax evaders

Greek prosecutors will investigate some 2,000 holders of HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland for suspected tax evasion, state broadcaster Net said on Saturday.

Athens to crack down on Swiss bank tax evaders
File photo: Takis Kolokotronis

The finance ministry said on Friday that it had received the list, which was already leaked in 2010 by an HSBC employee and passed on to Greece by France's then finance minister Christine Lagarde, the current head of the International Monetary Fund.

Greek authorities had claimed that the list was illegally obtained and hence could not be used in the battle against tax evasion, a chronic problem
in the heavily indebted and recession-hit country.

But mounting anger against a new round of austerity cuts, imposed by Greece's international creditors, put pressure on the government to seek the list.

Officials maintained that the original so-called "Lagarde list" had gone missing, prompting Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to ask France to re-send it.

In early November, a veteran Greek journalist who had published names from the list appeared in court for breach of privacy and was acquitted amid protests that the government was trying to bury the issue.

A prosecutor then challenged the acquittal, and journalist Costas Vaxevanis is set to stand trial again.

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CORRUPTION

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.
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