ATHENS – Stifled by a high court ruling setting a five-year statute on investigating a list of 2,062 Greeks with secret accounts in the Geneva, Switzerland branch of HSBC, Greek authorities said they have effectively given up trying to identify tax cheats and recover any monies due the state.
The head of Greece’s Independent Authority for Public Revenue admitted his agency’s hands are tied by two decisions from the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court which said people hiding money in foreign accounts can’t be looked at beyond a five-year limit.
The so-called Lagarde List at HSBC, named for then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who gave a copy of the stolen information to Greek authorities in 2010, revealed that Greeks hiding money in the bank had at least $1.5 billion in deposits and were thought to be trying to evade taxes.
“It is no longer possible to utilize the Lagarde list,” Giorgos Pitsilis told lawmakers, adding that tax authorities can only audit those cases in the list where bank deposits change significantly from one year to another, said Kathimerini.
Pitsilis said the revenue authority has found just 75 such cases in the list, of which 71 have been settled and the other four will be completed soon. The ruling affects other probes that would also have to cease allowing Greeks who hid money abroad to get away scot-free.
There hasn’t been a single high-level prosecution in Greece for tax evasion in years, with court cases taking up to 10 years to heard and Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras backing away from vow to hunt down tax evaders.