Untaxed Greek Shipping Oligarchs Renew Voluntary Tax Agreement

(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – With Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras having backed away from his pledge to “crush the oligarchy,” and tax Greece’s essentially tax-free shipping industry – the world’s largest – the owners renewed a deal to make voluntary payments.

Despite a more than 8 ½-year-long economic crisis that saw their homeland devastated, the shipping owners refuse to be taxed, threaten to take their operations elsewhere otherwise and fly Flags of Convenience from other countries to avoid assessments.

The new arbitration agreement – replacing the current understanding –  includes a 10-percent tax on dividends accumulated by individual owners, continuing the policy in which the shipowners agree to make nominal payments far below the worth of their holdings and income, successfully beating back any attempt to make them pay.

Speaking Feb. 7 at the annual general assembly of the Greek Union of Shipowners (GUS), the group’s President, Theodore Veniamis, said most – but not all – of the oligarchs agreed to make payments, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki.

In November 2015, some 11 months after Tsipras took power, Greece’s statistics office ELSTAT said shipping contributed around $9 billion – or 4 percent – of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

When you include related business, the industry says, the figure jumps to 7.5 percent of GDP, or about $17 billion a year. Deep-sea shipping and related trades employ more than 192,000 people, it says. That’s 4 percent of all Greek workers.

But a Reuters analysis of corporate filings and economic data suggested shipping’s heroic role in Greece’s economy is largely a myth because shipowners include in their statistics billions of dollars which never actually enter the Greek economy.

If Greece counted only payments to Greek companies and individuals – as other countries do – the deep-sea shipping industry’s contribution would be equivalent to around 1 percent of GDP.

Reuters report then began with a story of the day Greece’s Shipping Minister in June 2012, Kostis Moussouroulis received a visit from a 90-year-old shipowner who told him in some manys do back off any idea of taxing the sector.

“Don’t forget, the best minister of shipping and maritime affairs is the minister who is doing nothing for the shipping industry. He is the one who is leaving us alone.”

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