By Angelos Anastasiou
The so-called ‘Lagarde’ list – a registry of Cyprus-based depositors at the Swiss branch of HSBC bank, delivered by the French Finance ministry to the Cypriot authorities in August – includes 490 cases, both individuals and legal entities, Finance minister Harris Georgiades said on Tuesday, as MPs demanded its submission to parliament.
Addressing a joint session of the House Watchdog and Ethics Committees, the minister said the list is an electronic file received by the Tax Commissioner.
It presents year-end deposit balances at HSBC Switzerland for the years 2005 and 2006, he added.
In the case of individuals, they appear to either be Cypriot nationals or to have a Cypriot address listed, while both individuals and companies are connected to one or more accounts.
According to Georgiades, there are cases where deposit balances do not appear, necessitating further deliberations with the French authorities to determine whether the subject is a tax resident of Cyprus.
Additionally, the finance minister said, according to the Cypriot tax czar, the form of individuals’ connection with accounts is not limited to that of owner, but appears to include cases of power-of-attorney administrators.
“This is raw data that has been received by the Taxation Department and must be sifted through individually,” he said.
But, he conceded, the Lagarde list – so named after a similar list was delivered to the Greek Finance minister in 2010 by his French counterpart, Christine Lagarde – “undoubtedly” belongs in the “high-risk” column.
Georgiades said that on the instructions of the Tax Commissioner, detailed checks of the raw data are already underway, and noted that this procedure could provide an indication of the possible revenues to public coffers from unpaid taxes.
However, he expressed some concern regarding the government services’ administrative and technological capacity to manage not just this list, but the bulk of computerised information received from other countries on an annual basis.
Speaking to the government’s desire for the list to be utilised effectively, the Finance minister pointed to “several examples of handling across European countries”, some of which were exemplary and struck a blow on tax evasion, and others were very poor, resulting in interventions and leaks but leaving tax evaders unscathed.
Deputies on the two committees voted unanimously to request for an unprocessed copy of the list to be delivered to House Speaker Yiannakis Omirou, so as to remove any doubt of tampering.
Replying to a complaint by the Greens’ leader Yiorgos Perdikis that parliament was not notified of the arrival of the list, Georgiades argued that on receipt of the list by the Tax Commissioner in early August no leaks were seen, while a day after the despatch of a letter by the finance minister to the House Speaker, informing him of the development, the story had gone public.
“I’m not really sure what the deputies’ complaint is, I informed parliament in the prescribed way,” Georgiades said.
“The list came nowhere near my own office – it is in the hands of the person provided for by law.”
Once again, the minister said that maintaining deposits outside Cyprus is completely legal, as there is no distinction between deposits held in Cyprus or elsewhere.
With regard to deposits marked on the list as high-risk, Georgiades said detailed scrutiny may be warranted, as it could point to deposits by some who tried to utilise the lack of transparency formerly allowed at European and international level.
Asked whether the list will be given to parliament, he said the finance ministry will review any request from parliament, with the goal of averting use of the list for political reasons.
Tax Commissioner Yiannakis Lazarou said processing the entries on the list is already underway, but it is unknown when it might be concluded.
He assured lawmakers that the Cypriot authorities have the capacity to process the list, but if they face any problems they will ask for expert assistance.
He added that taxation can be imposed retroactively up to 12 years back.
Personal Data Protection Commissioner Yiannos Danielides said the law on personal data protection relates only to individuals still alive, and not legal entities.
In any case, he added, the law on personal data protection can under no circumstances be used as a shield for illegality.