Greece Asks EU Help To Catch Tax Cheats

DebtConceding that Greece can’t deal with tax cheats alone, the government is going to bring in tax experts and analysts from other European countries to help stem the runaway problem which has cost the country more than $70 billion.

The reinforcements are coming from Spain, France, The Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium and will help Greece’s notoriously inefficient tax inspection agency and financial crimes squad find tax cheats and try to bring in more revenues.

It comes as the government is set to impose more reforms, including increasing the corporate tax rate to 26 percent from 20 percent, and raising the rate on middle-class taxpayers from 40 to 42 percent, setting off fears that more Greeks will now try to evade paying. The law also aims at eliminating tax advantages for self-employed professionals who are believed to be among the biggest tax evaders and who often don’t give receipts for their services so they can hide their income.

Finance Ministry officials said that the only option left to increase revenues is by reducing tax evasion and chasing unpaid debts as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said he will not impose any more pay cuts, tax hikes or slashed pensions on beleaguered Greeks.

The newspaper Kathimerini said each group of foreign experts is offering specialized help in certain areas: The French are providing know-how in inspections of the very wealthy, the Spanish have taken on the construction and real estate sectors, the Swedes are drafting a plan for electronic checks on high-income taxpayers, and the Belgians and the Dutch are occupied with setting up a call center for collecting debts and reminding taxpayers when payments are due.

Greece’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) also are pressing the government to seize assets and bank accounts of tax cheats. Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras is calling for mandatory jail time for those convicted of evading taxes.