STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The government Greece is facing international condemnation for arresting a respected investigative journalist. His crime was publishing a list of names of wealthy Greeks, who may have hidden billions to Swiss bank accounts. Many Greeks are outraged that the journalist is going on trial today, rather than the politicians who have known about the list for two years and refused to act on it.
Joanna Kakissis reports.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The Greek judicial system usually moves a glacial pace. But after investigative journalist Kostas Vaxevanis published what's called the Lagarde List last weekend, authorities rushed him to court.
On Saturday, the list came out in his magazine, Hot Doc. On Monday, he faced a judge who set his trial for today.
More than 200 supporters outside the courthouse applauded him.
KOSTAS VAXEVANIS: (Spoken in foreign language)
KAKISSIS: Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed, Vaxevanis told the crowd. The rest is public relations. He was quoting George Orwell.
The list he published is named after Christine Lagarde, the current IMF leader who was French finance minister in 2010. That's when someone leaked the names of more than 2,000 Greeks who transferred their money to a bank in Switzerland.
Of course, Swiss bank accounts are perfectly legal, though people are known to park their cash there to avoid paying taxes. Lagarde got hold of the list and gave it to the Greek government. For two years, nothing happened. Vaxevanis says that changed a few weeks ago, when officials confirmed the existence of the list.
VAXEVANIS: (Through Translator) And then we had ministers declaring that they couldn't find this list, that they lost it, that they slipped it into a pocket somewhere. It's like a cartoon. Greek society was watching, sickened. The whole world already thinks we're thieves. So now that this list is out there, it needs to be investigated.
KAKISSIS: But instead of investigating the list, the government filed criminal charges against Vaxevanis. Authorities say he violated data protection laws by revealing the names, which included politicians, ship owners, and industrialists.
Vaxevanis says he's verified that the list is authentic. He suspects that up to $16 billion may have moved through those accounts between 1998 and 2007. Tax evasion, especially by the wealthy, cost Greece as much as $36 billion in 2009.
Martina Loukidi says her taxes come out of her tiny paycheck. She works at a flower shop, where makes $580 a month - half the monthly pay she earned last year. She says Greeks like her are paying the price for austerity while the rich keep living large.
MARTINA LOUKIDI: (Through Translator) The rich have connections. They cozy up to politicians who help them hide their money. Politicians should go to jail. Why should a journalist go to jail? Because he told the truth?
KAKISSIS: And Greeks believe it's suspicious for the government to prosecute Vaxevanis so quickly, says law professor Aristides Hatzis.
ARISTIDES HATZIS: They saw it exactly as it was - a cover-up. It's a way of treating things. It's a mentality.
KAKISSIS: The government will not comment, except to say that it's merely following the law. But Vaxevanis says the state must stop applying the law selectively and see the big picture - that Greeks are desperate for a transparent government.
VAXEVANIS: (Spoken in foreign language)
KAKISSIS: I received the Lagarde list in an envelope, he says. There was also a letter inside that said the list has been used for blackmail. Please tell the truth, the letter said, or our problems will just get worse.
Vaxevanis faces up to five years in prison if he's convicted.
For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.