ATHENS – The unstoppable phenomenon of tax evasion in Greece – sometimes called a national sport – is even worse than thought, auditors from the state’s Authority for Public Revenue (IAPR) uncovering another 24.5 million euros ($29.21 million.)
That was from 2014-19, the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA said, in only 36 cases of cheats including medical practices and computer services to hair salons, sports clubs and advertising agencies.
A moving company in Thrace in northeastern Greece hid 2.8 million euros (3.34 million) worth of transactions from the authorities in 2019 alone and a clothing firm in central Macedonia dodged taxes on nearly 4.5 million euros ($5.37 million) from 2015-2017, the report said.
A doctor in the second-largest city of Thessaloniki – the profession has a notorious reputation for demanding cash to avoid reporting their income – didn’t declare 1.25 million euros ($1.49 million) from 2014-17.
A number of accountants, who are supposed to report facts, doctored their own books, the report added, including one in Athens who evaded paying taxes on 647,500 euros ($772,066.)
A used-car dealer in Thessaloniki was found to have conducted 418 tax violations worth 1.27 million euros ($1.51 million) from 2014-2018, while two businesses in Crete didn’t report incomes of 956,000 euros ($1,139,915) and 936,000 euros ($1,166,067.)
There were no reports, however, of whether anyone was fined or prosecuted or under further investigation as it can take up to a decade or longer to bring people into court.
Successive governments have tried a range of measures to rein in tax cheats and a law in effect now requires the use of Point-of-Service (POS) machines tied to the state tax offices but many businesses and professionals simply say they aren’t working or they don’t have Internet connections to avoid them.
The New Democracy government, which took office in winning July 7, 2019 snap elections over the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, has rolled back attempts to prosecute tax cheats instead of going after them.
In November, 2020, the Parliament controlled by New Democracy government okayed a bill effectively giving a pass to thousands of alleged tax evaders in a move that critics said was aimed at benefiting Greek bankers facing breach of trust charges and undermining anti-money laundering laws.
It hacked away from trying to hunt down legions of tax cheats despite a critical need for cash during a long-running economic crisis and now facing the aftermath of COVID-19.
The Financial Times said opponents of the move that came after the government promised to go after tax dodgers could set a worrying precedent, with rival parties, lawyers and prosecutors critical.
Critics said the amendment rewards high-profile tax evaders, curbs the independence of public prosecutors and will taint Greece’s reputation as it tries to attract fresh investment from abroad to help rebuild the economy, the report said.
The legislation would freeze criminal probes by prosecutors and court hearings of more than 5,000 alleged tax evaders with debts to the Greek state of more than 150,000 euros ($178,935) and allow prosecutions only after all other measures to settle cases have been exhausted.
That likely means very few cases will be taken to court as drawing out the process means they will run up against a five-year statute of limitation for tax offenses and he automatically dropped.
“By postponing enforcement of tax laws the new legislation encourages rather than discourages corruption and tax evasion and weakens compliance with the rule of law,” Emilios Avgouleas, a financial law professor at Edinburgh University told the news site.
Justice Minister Kostas Tsiaras said changing the tax code would reduce a long backlog of cases and bring in revenues without saying how that would happen if tax cheats escape without paying.
“I have an official opinion from the Council of State [Greece’ highest administrative court) that there is absolutely no problem with this law,” he told Parliament without providing details.