ATHENS – Greek shipowners, who rule the world’s waves but refuse to pay taxes at home to help the country during a long-running economic crisis, instead offered a voluntary payment of 75 million euros ($85.37 million) annually, a smidgeon of their worth of more than $9 billion.
The office of Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras – who promised to make the shipowners pay taxes and “Crush the oligarchy” backed off both and announced the deal replacing a previous voluntary payment. The sum is equivalent to a 10 percent levy on dividends, the Premier’s office said, according to Kathimerini.
Next to tourism, the shipping industry is the country’s most important sector although the wealthy shipowners prefer to fly Flags of Convenience from tax havens and other countries to avoid paying in Greece and threatened to pull out if they were taxed.
Greek shipowners operate some of the world’s biggest tankers and bulk carriers. Greek shipping accounts for almost half of the European Union’s total fleet capacity.
Tsipras said that under Greek law – that he said he would change – that shipowners are not obliged to agree on any contribution and that the deal was a “significant” contribution to the country’s efforts to emerge from a debt crisis that has lasted nearly a decade.
“We must all realize that emerging from the crisis means bigger business opportunities,” Tsipras said without mentioning he broke his pledge to tax them, becoming the latest Premier to back down. Greece has long given shipowners tax-free status.
The new deal makes the payments permanent, the Premier’s office said, locking the shipowners into what is, for them, essentially a symbolic effort.
Theodore Veniamis, President of the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) said the industry was supporting “the effort the government is making for a better future in Greece,” although the amount is too small to make that happen.