A New Year’s poll by the newspaper Kathimerini found nearly two-thirds of people believe 2013 will be worse than previous years. Unemployment has risen, the desperate are reduced to picking through garbage to find something to eat and suicides are on the rise.
Meanwhile, politicians are fiddling while Athens burns. Their promises to improve the country’s tax take have been a dismal failure — total unpaid taxes amount to nearly US$70-billion, about 25% of Greece’s gross domestic product. (Tax evasion remains a national sport among the business and professional elites.)
Instead, they are preoccupied with protecting themselves from a corruption scandal involving thousands of Greeks with illegal Swiss bank accounts. It’s known as the Lagarde List after Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister, who handed it to her Greek counterpart more than two years ago.
In the hot seat are George Papaconstantinou, recipient of the document containing 2,062 names, and Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos. When Papaconstantinou turned the list over to prosecutors it had mysteriously shrunk by three — accounts associated with his relatives.
As for Venizelos, he’s accused of not doing enough to track down tax cheats. But this week, the smallest party in Greece’s government expelled two lawmakers for backing an investigation into his handling of the list, according to Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas of Reuters.
Democratic Left lawmakers Odysseas Voudouris and Paris Moutsinas supported a call by the main opposition Syriza party to look into Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos’s role in a scandal over the so-called “Lagarde list” that names rich Greeks who stashed money abroad.“What is now clear is that the two deputies not only express a different opinion but also support a different political plan,” the party said in a statement confirming their expulsion from its parliamentary group.No wonder anticorruption watchdog Transparency International has ranked Greece as the most corrupt nation in Europe, behind former Eastern Bloc states like Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia.
Attempts to tax the rich are beyond pathetic, say Philip Pangalos and Nektaria Stamouli of The Wall Street Journal.
Many Greeks have argued that austerity measures undertaken by Mr. Papaconstantinou and other officials have struck disproportionately at the country’s poor, and that the government has done a little to crack down on tax evasion by the rich or tackle corruption by the country’s business and political elite.In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Kostas Vaxevanis — the editor who was prosecuted for publishing the Lagarde list — throws light on the close relationship between politicians and the elite.
[The oligarchs] bribe politicians to get fat government contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions are clothed in silence …At the Times, Liz Alderman and Rachel Donadio argue the shortfall in tax collection is a far bigger problem.
In 2011, Evangelos Venizelos, who was then the finance minister and is now the leader of the socialist party, Pasok, instituted a new property-tax law. But for properties larger than 2,000 square metres the tax was reduced by 60%. Mr. Venizelos thus carved out a big exemption for the only people who could afford to pay the tax: the rich …
Such shenanigans have gone on for decades. The public is deprived of real information, as television stations, newspapers and online news sites are controlled by the economic and political elite.
While the firestorm may have made for political theatre of a sort, it has diverted attention from a much bigger problem: Greece, its foreign lenders say, has fallen woefully short of its tax collection targets and is still not moving hard enough to tackle widespread tax evasion — long tolerated, particularly among the country’s richest citizens.There have been some noteworthy successes. Last month, a court in Athens ordered the seizure of the assets of Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, one of the names on the Lagarde List.
Greek officials agreed to the targets as part of an international lending pact last year, but there is no penalty for missing them. In recent weeks, however, two reports by Greece’s foreign lenders have found that Athens pulled in less than half of the additional tax income that it expected last year and performed fewer than half of the expected audits.
Along with 29 former associates, he’s been charged with fraud stemming from hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made by his Proton bank to dormant companies — sometimes, investigators say, ordering an employee to withdraw the money in bags of cash.