Panagiotis Nikoloudis is not a politician, however he was appointed by the new leftist SYRIZA-led government to fight one of Greece’s major plights: corruption.
The supreme court prosecutor who is now Minister of Transparency and Anti-Corruption is a specialist in economic crime and he is in tune with the new government’s plan to battle corruption and the rich businessmen and wealthy families, the “oligarchs,”,\ who have been exploiting state wealth and influencing Greek politics in the past few decades.
According to an extensive Reuters report, the 65-year-old prosecutor spoke in the Greek parliament last week, denouncing the elite of a “handful of families who think that the state and public service exists to service their own interests.”
These families and individuals win lucrative state contracts, run television stations without a license, receive “crony” bank loans, smuggle oil, profit from shady state privatizations and evade taxes worth billions cumulatively, usually via offshore company accounts.
Mr. Nikoloudis is in tune with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis who have both expressed their will to “destroy oligarchy.”
So far, the new Greek government has put under scrutiny the privatization of the national lottery organization and the planned sale of state shares in major ports.
Minister of Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Panagiotis Lafazanis told parliament last week the government would seek the cancellation of the “scandalous purchase” of the old Athens airport, Hellenikon, by Lamda Development, a company controlled by the family of Greece’s richest businessman, Spiros Latsis.
Mr. Nikoloudis told Reuters in an interview he was not accusing the wealthy in general. I would be crazy to think like that,” he said.
However, he said, previous investigations into oil smuggling, banking fraud and tax evasion had identified perpetrators who were wealthy businessmen with political patrons. “So I don’t attack the rich, but the people I’ve found committing crime just happen to be rich,” Mr. Nikoloudis added
The prosecutor has a reputation for action. As head of financial intelligence units in the past he has developed a system of audits that identified over 20,000 people whose assets do not match their tax declarations.
According to his own statement, Mr. Nikoloudis knows of 3,500 suspected cases of tax evasion totaling 7 billion euros. He also said that the Greek state can receive immediately 2.5 billion euros from these cases.
Mr. Nikoloudis has acknowledged that targeting the rich and powerful alone would not eliminate tax evasion. In fact, he found the biggest companies in Greece were the most scrupulous in paying their taxes, unlike many self-employed people. “Specifically everyone who has a hotel or a taverna on an Aegean island systematically commits tax evasion,” he told Reuters.
Mr. Nikoloudis appears as an idealist who believes that attacking corrupt behavior is more about justice than raising state revenues: “Even if we accept that some people will take their money and go abroad, I would prefer to take that risk instead of seeing the economy of my country based on dirty money and corrupt enterprise.”
“I am not going to fight everyone. I don’t want to break my nose. I want to change the system. That’s my ambition,” he said.