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Greek parliament approves tax scandal probe on ex-minister

Former socialist finance minister George Papaconstantinou prepares to address parliament in Athens on January 17, 2013
Former socialist finance minister George Papaconstantinou prepares to addressing the Greek Parliament in Athens on January 17, 2013. The parliament on Friday agreed to investigate Papaconstantinou for allegedly tampering with a confidential tax document t

The Greek parliament on Friday agreed to investigate former socialist finance minister George Papaconstantinou for allegedly tampering with a confidential tax document to hinder a probe into tax evasion.

After a lengthy and heated debate that started early on Thursday, a majority of lawmakers voted in favour of setting up a committee to look into the minister's suspected cover-up.

Not enough votes were gathered to approve further probes into another former minister and two ex-prime ministers regarding the same scandal, which involves a list of names of Greek citizens with accounts at HSBC bank in Switzerland suspected of tax evasion.

"It is obvious that some people want me to be the scapegoat," said Papaconstantinou, who is accused of deleting the names of three of his relatives from the list, when he addressed the parliament on Thursday.

"I did not alter anything. I had no reason to do so. My relatives have provided evidence that the sums concerned are legal and have already been taxed," he said.

"I did not make a fortune through politics, I do not have any accounts in Swiss banks nor do I have offshore companies. I only have loans," he added.

Greece's coalition government, led by the conservative New Democracy party and including the socialist Pasok and moderate left-wing Democratic Left, has been in favour of investigating Papaconstantinou for alleged breach of duty and falsification of an official document.

Radical leftist Syriza, the main opposition party, had also called for an investigation of Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos, Papaconstantinou's successor in the finance ministry.

Two smaller opposition parties further wanted a probe into former prime ministers George Papandreou and Lucas Papademos.

Papaconstantinou, who has retired from politics, helped engineer the heavily indebted country's first austerity programme and international bailout plan in 2010.

Greek financial prosecutors are currently looking into some 2,000 names on the list which was originally leaked by an HSBC employee.

Local media have branded the scandal the "Lagarde list" affair, as current International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde initially sent the list to Papaconstantinou in 2010 when she was France's finance minister.

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