ATHENS – Once the most prominent story in Greece – thousands of wealthy hiding their money in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and Germany – has now faded away after courts said even those found to be tax cheats can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations for chasing them has expired.
The so-called Lagarde List at HSBC in Geneva, 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 a year ago, 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 be heard and Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras backing away from vow to hunt down tax evaders.
Now a supplemental ruling by the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, has rejected a request by prosecutors and tax auditors to have another five years to pore over the Lagarde List, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said.
While some depositors on the list settled accounts with the Greek state by voluntarily paying taxes on deposits, the notion of “billions of euros from tax evasion proceeds exported abroad” fizzled out, the paper added.
Also not being pursued anymore are those on the so-called Borjans List, named for Finance Minister of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, which gave Greek authorities the names of those hiding their money there.
In 2016, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed Walter-Borjans in Athens and thanked him for his help in fighting tax evasion before giving up on it, reneging on a vow to crack down on tax dodgers and corruption.
“It’s not the first time that Greece has received information and lists, but it is the first time that Greece has information on tax evasion and is utilizing it,” Tsipas said then. “After the ‘Lagarde list’ we have the ‘Borjans list’. You’re famous in Greece,” he added.
Now, many of Greece’s wealthiest tax cheats have gotten away with it.