As the government steps up its goal to collect from tax cheats, officials of the Financial Crimes Unit (SDOE) will have direct online access to Greek bank accounts as of March 19, looking for evidence that can be used, although much of the country’s suspected tax evasion is occurring through the use of accounts in foreign banks.
The government still hasn’t checked, after more than 2 1/2 years, for possible tax evasion in a list of 2,062 Greeks with $1.95 billion in secret accounts in the Geneva, Switzerland branch of HSBC.
A parliamentary committee is investigating former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, who had the list but said it went missing, but is probing only to determine who removed the names of three of his relatives.
He has denied any wrongdoing and the investigation suffered a setback this week when SDOE said it would three months to analyze the so-called Lagarde List and provide a report to the committee, which may have to suspend its work amid speculation that no one will ever be charged with anything, and as the government instead turns to checking back records of taxpayers.
Ten officials of SDOE’s headquarters in Athens and two in each of the unit’s regional offices will have access to the bank data which will help them in their efforts to determine whether taxpayers who are under investigation have been honest in their income declarations to authorities. The inspectors will be able to see individual transactions from 2008 and the balance of each account from 2002.
The move was taken due to the delay in the process of banks sending data to inspectors. SDOE officials are expected to focus on the accounts of those on the Lagarde List to see if they transferred money from Greek banks so they can find a paper trail.
The list is named for former French finance minister Christine Lagarde, who gave it to Papaconstantinou, culled from a larger list on a CD stolen by a former HSBC worker. She is now head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) one of Greece’s international lenders.
While that is happening, and as the government imposes big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions on workers, pensioners and the poor, more evidence has emerged that tax evaders are continuing to largely escape sacrifice, even through the use of fake invoices to deceive inspectors.
Deputy Finance Minister Giorgos Mavraganis admitted that the state had collected only a fraction, about .0014 percent of the outstanding tax arrears owed to the state by companies and individuals with the largest debts.
Although a special team was appointed to chase the arrears owed by the 1,500 biggest debtors, it failed to bring in money, Mavraganis said, according to the newspaper Kathimerini. “It it is a fact that the results of the operational revenue unit for the period between May 1 and August 31 of 2012 on 459 cases with a large collective arrears resulted in a very small proportion being collected,” he said.
He was speaking in Parliament in response to a question submitted by the independent MP Odysseas Voudouris who wanted to know why the government has collected only $19 million out of $13 billion that the biggest tax cheats owed, although the overall bill is said to be as much as $70 billion cumulatively for all evaders.
Mavraganis said it was because that 170 of the 459 companies checked were bankrupt, that many of the cases involved the use of bogus invoices, that in many other cases no assets could be linked to those responsible.
Greece’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) have been pressing the government to go after tax cheats although acknowledging as much as 80 percent of tax debt may never be collected. It takes up to a decade to prosecute tax evasion cases in Greece and there hasn’t been a single major prosecution of a large-scale cheat.