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Greek journalist on trial for publishing 'Lagarde list'

A journalist has gone on trial for publishing the names of thousands of Greeks who allegedly have Swiss bank accounts. The prominent journalist is charged with violating data privacy laws.

Costas Vaxevanis made no comment to reporters as he arrived at the Athens court at the start of the trial on Thursday. Following a brief appearance on Monday, though, the 46-year-old television journalist, who now publishes a magazine, insisted that he was innocent.

"I was doing my job in the name of the public interest," Vaxevanis said outside of the court. "Journalism is revealing the truth when everyone else is trying to hide it."

Vaxevanis was arrested and later released on Sunday after his magazine, Hot Doc, published a list of more than 2,000 names of wealthy Greeks, including prominent businessmen and politicians who allegedly have accounts at HSBC bank in Switzerland.

The list is widely known as the “Lagarde List,” as it originally came to light after an HSBC employee passed on the list to France's then-finance minister, Christine Lagarde. France passed the list on to Athens in 2010, but while other European countries that received similar documents have opened tax-evasion investigations, so far, though, Greek officials have taken no action.

Some officials have argued that because it was stolen, the data could not be used against possible tax evaders anyway. However their inaction has led some to accuse the government of favoring the wealthy while at the same time imposing tough austerity measures on the general public.

Costas has accused the government of hypocrisy.

"In Ancient Greek mythology, justice is presented as blind. In modern Greece, it is merely winking and nodding... justice remains in thrall to politics," Vaxevanis wrote in an article published in Britain's Guardian newspaper earlier in the week. "Dealings with banks are carried out in public, not in secrecy. The existence of a bank account is therefore not personal data," he added.

If found guilty of breach of privacy, Vaxevanis could face up to three years in prison.

pfd/hc (Reuters, AFP)