ATHENS – The best news of the week was that Germany may be sending 160 tax auditors to Greece to – quote, unquote – “modernize the tax system,” which is really just code to go after tax evaders and try to bring some order to the insanity, corruption and incompetence in tax collection, despite the recent PR roundup of some of those who owe the country more than $60 billion. The impunity of evaders infuriates the few Greeks who do pay taxes, but that’s nothing compared to how the tax cheaters used to paying off tax collectors and politicians will feel once the Teutonic types start sorting out the mess.
“Greece’s problems today are even worse than the problems faced in former East Germany in 1990,” said Norbert Walter-Borjans, a regional finance minister, referring to the period after German unity when West German tax officials went to the ex-Communist east of the country to help improve tax collection. “There was resistance then among some eastern Germans against western (tax collectors), but that’s nothing compared to the reservations Greeks will have against Germans,” he added.
Undoubtedly that is part of the issue, but the real rage many Greeks feel is toward their own and the injustice of life in a country controlled by politicians who protect their own and a rich elite who squirrel their money outside the country. As have many Members of Parliament who were beating their jingoistic breasts last year and urging Greeks to keep their savings – those who had any – in the country, when a lot of people thought Greece would be forced out of the Eurozone and have to go back to the drachma, which would be even more worthless than a Confederate dollar. Politicians were having none of that and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos – who has doubled income and property taxes on working Greeks, and taxed the poor and those who have no jobs – surprised no one after reports came out that one unidentified MP had put $1.34 million in a foreign bank, by saying that there really were a lot more, as well as many politicians’ relatives.
None, of course, have been named, and none will be prosecuted; even though it’s not against the law to transfer your money outside of Greece, it is if a politician doesn’t report it (and not one of the 300 in the Parliament in their recent declarations of wealth said they had even a single euro outside their beloved country). Greeks have moved more than $87.4 billion out of their own banks and tucked it in their mattresses or sent it to banks in other countries, especially the tax haven of Switzerland, which in addition to producing nice chocolates, allows criminals to keep their ill-gotten gains there. What can one expect of a country which had no qualms or conscience about letting the Nazis hoard what they stole within Swiss borders? Venizelos said he’s nearing a deal to get the Swiss to drop the secrecy, but its safer to be that Greece will win the next World Cup first.
THE BEAT GOES ON
It doesn’t end there. Greece is nearing a deal to end a scandal with the German engineering giant Siemens, which reportedly paid $1.8 billion in bribes to top Greek politicians. None, of course, including former Deputy Transport Minister Tassos Mantelis, have been prosecuted, but if Greeks don’t pay their doubled property tax, which is being tucked into their utility bills, they’ll have their lights turned off faster than you can say nobody-goes-to-jail-in-Greece-except-the-poor-and-foreigners. The list of scandals in Greece is bigger than the refrigerator in Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos’ house – one of many he owns while a lot of Greeks are sleeping in cardboard boxes on the streets now, thanks to politicians packing public payrolls with political hires in return for votes for the last 35 years which bankrupted the country. Among the guilty are those shiftless alleged workers who’ve sat around in public offices drinking coffee, smoking and ignoring customers, tainting the real hard working Greeks who are suffering along with everyone else, except politicians and the rich.
People who fight against injustice in Greece are swallowed up and spit out. Five years ago, George Zorbas, head of the country’s money-laundering unit, got nowhere with his probe into the state pension system paying an exorbitant price for bonds, and said it was because the government didn’t want him to find the culprits. Not long after, Labor Minister Vassilis Magginas was cleared of charges alleging he harbored uninsured foreign workers in his Athens home, although he did resign, the usual gambit for politicians who smell prosecution and get away with what they said they didn’t do. In 2009, Shipping Minister Aristotle Pavlides was caught up in a bribery scandal after it was alleged that his aide had demanded bribes from a private ship-owning firm to grant a contract for ferry routes, presumably not with Charon, the ferryman to Hades, which is where the unjust belong.
He didn’t resign but – of course – was not prosecuted because these types never are. Eight years ago, when New Democracy’s Costas Karamanlis, a/k/a the Absentee Prime Minister, was in power, the government revealed that the phones of more than 100 Greek politicians – you can’t put the word eminent before that without puking – had been tapped, including his. After a two-year non-investigation, the case was dropped because the government said that foreign intelligence agencies were to blame, only because not even gullible Greeks would believe it was aliens, the kind from outer space, not those from places like Africa who rent child prostitutes in Omonia Square two blocks from City Hall. Whoever did it was never caught, of course.
Four years ago this month, Culture Ministry General Secretary Christos Zahopoulos was caught up in the infamous “sex, lies, and DVD scandal,” that showed him having sex with his female assistant. She was the one who was prosecuted while he jumped off a balcony, a rather foolish decision since all he had to do was wait a couple of weeks and nothing would have happened to him. He survived the fall like a bounced check, even though the real crime wasn’t sex, but that he reportedly arranged the unlawful removal of properties from protected archaeological sites (wonder why?) and used his office to hire friends and relatives. Well, that’s not a crime in Greece and people who didn’t get the jobs were outraged. If they’d been hired, they would have been just fine with it.
Also, in 2008 came the charges that Merchant Marine Minister George Voulgarakis and his deputy ministers were involved in land swap deals with the Vatopedi monastery, costing taxpayers $134 million. His wife was reportedly an intermediary. Nothing happened to them, of course, but the head of the monastery, Ephraim, is cooling his heels in a detention center believing in God instead of handing out some cash. So while Greeks are being subjected to pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and 150,000 firings – which, if it had happened two years ago, none of these insane austerity measures would have been necessary – politicians and the rich continue to do what they want.
The great German (German, again?) writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, perhaps put it best when she wrote that, “The greatest enemy of justice is privilege,” but the late American comic Lenny Bruce had it right when he noticed that while he was being prosecuted for profanity, real criminals were consorting outside the courtroom with lawyers to make deals. He said: “The only justice in the halls of justice is in the halls.” Greece’s real criminals don’t even get that far.