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'I'm not afraid to go to jail': crusading Greek journalist

A hunted man: Costas Vaxevanis at the office of his magazine, Hot Doc, in Athens . (John Kolesidis/Reuters)

Greek investigative journalist Costas Vaxevanis has been awarded the 2012 Index on Censorship Journalism Award for publishing the account details of 2,000 suspected tax evaders, the so-called Lagarde List. 

Greece’s society and economy is in tatters despite the billion-dollar bailouts from Europe. Austerity has brought misery to its citizens.

In the midst of all that, Greece’s public prosecutor is going after Vaxevanis for violating privacy data laws. He was acquitted last year on those charges but faces a second trial in June. 

When I interviewed Vaxevanis in Athens last November he expressed no regrets about publishing the list.

Actually, he did have one regret – how little coverage the Lagarde List has received at home. He believes journalists are muzzled because all the major media outlets are owned by a narrow band of business interests. His own case was symptomatic of the state of Greek democracy and journalism, he told me.  

“Instead of chasing (the list) they (journalists) said it was fake,” he said. “How did I get it the list? They questioned the way it was released to the public when it was private. They didn’t question the substance of the allegations.”

When I asked him if he would win his war against the bankers this was his thoughtful response:

"Either the economy will prevail over our politicians or politics will prevail over our economy. The tragedy is those who support the banks say this is how markets operate and when those banks go bankrupt they are bailed out by the state. People say we have to save Europe but that is not just the City of London. It is French culture, German philosophy. It’s the people." 

As for his award, he said in his acceptance speech in London last week that he had been attacked in his home, which was made to look like an attempted burglary. But he was not afraid of going to jail for his beliefs.

“I want to state that if I am going to be convicted I will not appeal but I will ask to be put in jail. I want to be a journalist in a country that is not afraid of the truth,” he said in the speech. 

READ MORE: How Europe’s rich avoid paying their tax bill 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour



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