World Press View: Greece Ripped for Firing Tax Chief

The sacking of Greece’s top tax official, Katerina Savvaidou, has drawn criticism of political interference by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, world press reports say.

Some excerpts:

Dismissal of Greece’s Tax Chief Draws Criticism

The Wall Street Journal/Nektaria Stamouli and Viktoria Dendrinou

The Greek cabinet decided to remove the top tax-collection official from her position amid judicial allegations that she breached her duties, a move that could raise concerns about the political independence of the country’s tax-collection authorities.

“The cabinet has unanimously accepted the finance minister’s suggestion that [Ekaterini Savvaidou] should be removed from her duties,” government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said Thursday.

Asked whether the decision had been discussed with the country’s creditors, Mrs. Gerovasili said Greece is a sovereign state. “There are laws in this country and they will be respected,” she said.

Greek officials say Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras last week asked Mrs. Savvaidou to resign after she was charged by a prosecutor with a breach of duty for seeking to defer the collection of taxes from the country’s television stations by a year, allegedly in violation of the law.

Mrs. Savvaidou is also under investigation for a decision to review a €78 million ($88.5 million) fine imposed on a technology firm.

Mrs. Savvaidou denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement published Tuesday, Mrs. Savvaidou said she wouldn’t resign at a time that her “honesty, dignity and proper completion of my duties are being put in doubt due to the implication of my name in a judicial process.”

She said her resignation would be seen as an admission of her involvement in a scandal, and could lead to “the transformation of the independent General Secretariat for Public Revenue into a frightened tax administration that cannot carry out its duties.”

European Union officials have criticized the Greek government’s decision to remove Mrs. Savvaidou, seeing it as a possible sign of political intervention in public administration.

“This may strengthen concerns that a depoliticization of the administration may not happen, and that the judiciary remains a willing instrument in the hands of politicians,” an EU official said.

Creditors consider the independence of the tax authorities to be one of the most important overhauls for Greece, arguing that only a politically independent body will make determined efforts to tackle chronic tax evasion.

Mrs. Savvaidou became general secretary of the Public Revenues Authority in mid-2014 after the government forced the resignation of her predecessor, Haris Theoharis, who fell out with then-Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Greece’s Top Tax Collector Sacked by Tsipras

The Financial Times/Eleftheria Kourtali and Peter Spiegel

Greece’s top tax collection official has been sacked by prime minister Alexis Tsipras in a move that has reawakened concerns about the politicisation of a key administrative post.

Katerina Savvaidou was removed following a cabinet meeting on Thursday -days after she refused Mr Tsipras’ request that she resign.

An Athens lower court prosecutor last week filed charges against Ms Savvaidou for breach of duty because she had allegedly granted an extension to television stations to pay a 20 per cent tax on advertising. The extension came just ten days before the January elections.

Ms Savvaidou, a former PriceWaterhouse executive connected to the centre-right New Democracy party, is also under judicial investigation for ordering a review of a €78m fine imposed on an IT company accused of usury.

“As we all understand, in times that are difficult for Greek society, for the Greek people, we cannot accept for public officials to operate against the public interest — to favour specific businesses, which benefited in the past from previous governments,” said Olga Gerovasili, a government spokesperson.

But in a written statement, Ms Savvaidou rejected those claims, stating: “I refused to resign from my post, because I cannot depart at a time when my attention to duties is being questioned in such an unfounded manner and my honesty and dignity is being slighted.”

Top Greek Tax Official is Sacked

The New York Times/Niki Katsantonis

The Greek government on Thursday dismissed the country’s top tax official, saying she was not fulfilling her duty to aggressively collect taxes and fight tax evasion.

The firing of the official, Katerina Savvaidou, the head of a supposedly independent public revenue authority, came at a sensitive moment in the country’s effort to mount an economic comeback and live up to the conditions of its international bailout program.

The government is eager to begin receiving payments from the 86 billion euro, or $97.6 billion, bailout program it agreed to this summer with its eurozone creditors.

Disbursement of small slices of that money is contingent on the creditors’ assessment of the progress of the country’s economic overhaul measures. Greece’s notoriously porous tax collection system and high level of tax evasion are parts of the economy that creditors have demanded be fixed.

Despite the government’s stated reason for dismissing Ms. Savvaidou, it was too early to tell whether Greece’s creditors might nonetheless see her firing as an unwelcome political encroachment on what is supposed to be an independent agency.

Speaking by telephone, Ms. Savvaidou said on Thursday that she had not been informed about the decision by the government. “I heard about it on television,” she said.

In a written statement a few hours later, Ms. Savvaidou said that she had fulfilled her duties “to the full” and that extending a deadline for the payment of taxes was “a standard practice in administration,” not an offense.

Ms. Gerovasili, the government spokeswoman, said on Thursday that the government would not accept “certain companies that were given special treatment under previous governments, and which constituted the core of vested interests, being favored again.”