Greek investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis (C) leaves a prosecutor’s office in Athens in 2012. He was found not guilty of breaking data privacy laws in November, but the Athens public prosecutor subsequently ordered a retrial for June.
A Greek investigative journalist prosecuted by his government for publishing a list of wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts has said he was prepared to go to prison for the offence.
Speaking before receiving the Journalism prize at the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression in London, Kostas Vaxevanis said it had been his duty to publish the list in defiance of the Greek establishment.
Kirsty Hughes, the Index’s chief executive officer, said: ‘Kostas has stood up to an economic and political elite who want to close down debate on one of the biggest crises in Europe’s history.’
Other prizes went to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, Palestinian-born Syrian internet activist Bassel Khartabil and South African photographer Zanele Muholi.
Mr Vaxevanis’s case caused uproar in Greece and internationally. He was found not guilty of breaking data privacy laws in November, but the Athens public prosecutor subsequently ordered a retrial for June.
Speaking ahead of the awards ceremony, Mr Vaxevanis said he would be prepared to go to jail “just to show people what is happening in Greece”.
“But if I am convicted answers will have to be given about why other magazines and websites who published the list were not prosecuted,” he said.
A dozen other media outlets reprinted the list from his magazine Hot Doc, but none have been charged.
The maximum sentence he faces for breaching privacy laws is 10 years.
He continued: “I would publish again, of course, if there was a need. There had been talk about the Lagarde List for three years and it was my duty to publish.”
Three consecutive governments had known about the list but failed to act.
The list is in fact a spreadsheet containing 2,062 potential tax evaders with undeclared accounts at Swiss HSBC bank’s Geneva branch.
It is named after the former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who passed the information on to Greek officials in the autumn of 2010 to help them crack down on tax evasion.
After receiving the information anonymously, on a USB stick, Mr Vaxevanis published a list of account holders, omitting large amounts of financial information in the files.
The next day he was arrested in the middle of giving a radio interview.
He said his case showed that Greece’s dire financial crisis has made the lack of democracy in his country more acute. In response to the outcry, the new coalition government has done nothing more than form a parliamentary committee of inquiry.
Mr Vaxevanis said he and his magazine were targeted, he said, because they were small and independently owned and could not be leaned on.
“I am just being punished for telling the truth. It’s an act of revenge because I broke the ties between political power and the media, which are very close in Greece,” he said.