ATHENS – Unable to stop rampant cheating, Greece’s leftist-led government has set penalties of two years in jail for major tax evaders, if they’re caught.
Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras came into office last year vowing to be the first one who could rein in tax dodgers in a country where not paying taxes has been called a national sport.
As did his predecessors, he failed as there wasn’t a single major prosecution of a tax cheat despite constant revelations, including one who won a bid to operate a private TV station, along with his father, a construction tycoon said to have ties to SYRIZA.
The new penalties include imprisonment in cases of large tax evasion as the government is frantically trying to find revenues during a crushing economic crisis.
Taxpayers who have hidden earnings or assets corresponding to direct taxes of more than 100,000 euros ($111,530) in total or indirect taxes of 50,000 euros ($55,770) face a prison term of at least two years. Taxpayers found to have evaded payments of more than 150,000 euros ($167,300) will face longer prison terms.
In cases of serious tax evasion, besides the heavy fines and penalties, the state will also demand punitive damages, starting from one tenth of the amount evaded.
The issue or acceptance of fake tax details will be punished with a three-month prison term, regardless of whether they involved tax evasion.
That is, of course, if the evaders are caught as many of Greece’s affluent hide their money in secret foreign bank accounts, such as the $1.5 billion found in the Geneva, Switzerland branch of HSBC that has been probed for years and failed to yield any significant revenues.
No major tax cheat has been prosecuted or gone to jail for years and it takes up to 10 years or more to take them to court.