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Greek ex-finance minister caught up in scandal

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[December 29, 2012]  ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece's former finance minister is at the center of an escalating political scandal after three of his relatives were allegedly found missing from a list of Greeks with Swiss banks accounts that authorities are using to investigate possible tax evasion.

George Papaconstantinou, who was the main architect of debt-ridden Greece's first austerity program, was expelled from his Socialist party after the allegations came to light Friday. The party said he had "handled the list in the worst possible way."

Prosecutors had cross-checked the list originally handed over to the Finance Ministry by French authorities in 2010 -- while Papaconstantinou was minister -- with another copy supplied by France last week.

The prosecutors said three people related to a former minister were not on the first list. Although they did not identify the ex-minister, his party swiftly did.

"It is regrettable that according to the judicial investigation, there are clear indications that the list was tampered with, with respect to family members of the former finance minister George Papaconstantinou," the Socialist PASOK party said in a statement.

"Obviously, Mr. Papaconstantinou no longer belongs to PASOK," it said, adding that "there is an obvious and huge issue of responsibility of Mr. George Papaconstantinou."

The list of about 2,000 Greek individuals and companies was provided by French authorities and is based on data concerning 24,000 HSBC customers in Switzerland that the bank reported stolen. Although Greece's Socialist government at the time received the list in 2010, no action was taken on the information until several weeks ago -- drawing heavy criticism amid the country's deepening financial crisis.

PASOK is now part of Greece's conservative-led three-party coalition government. Papaconstantinou, 51, was a prominent party member who served as finance minister from October 2009 to June 2011, and then as environment minister in the next government. He currently holds no government position and is not a member of parliament.

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Late Friday, a spokesman for the coalition government said it would back any initiative to hold a parliamentary investigation into Papaconstantinou's handling of the list.

Papaconstantinou, meanwhile, angrily denied any allegation of wrongdoing.

"I have made absolutely no intervention into the data which I asked for and received from the French authorities," he said in a statement, adding that he was "not going to accept the fabrication of guilt where none exists, nor become the scapegoat in this case."

A court official said two of Papaconstantinou's cousins and their husbands -- of whom three had been on the list -- were involved in two accounts in a Swiss HSBC branch. One of the accounts was closed, while the other contains $1.2 million, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details of the case publicly.

Court officials have sent the new list to Parliament so the legislature can look into whether there has been any wrongdoing by active politicians.

[Associated Press; By FANIS KARABATZAKIS]

Derek Gatopoulos and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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