In a recent story, a Bloomberg correspondent followed Greece’s Financial Crime Unit (SDOE) performing random spot checks at several locations across Athens, unraveling step by step the Greek mentality of evading taxes, which “has its roots back in the Ottoman Empire“.
The story begins on a Saturday night in a club in Athens’ elite northern district. Bloomberg’s journalist accompanies the tax officials who push through the crowd demanding to see the cash register. For the next 30 minutes, the officials, with dance music blaring, retreat to a table near the toilets to study the papers before concluding there’s been no violation.
The following day, the SDOE employees perform on-the-spot audits across a crowded Athenian coffee scene, where a coffee house is found not to have issued many receipts. When the owner is fined €250, he starts complaining about the injustice taking place, showing the journalist his empty cash register.
“To be viable, you have to manipulate the numbers,” Petros, who owns a bar near downtown Athens, told the journalist, admitting that he is evading taxes to stay afloat. Petros relies on a network of local businesses that alert each other when controllers arrive in the neighborhood, which is about 10 times a year.
SDOE inspectors are the new face of Greece’s fight against an age-old problem of tax evasion, mentions the journalist in his story, revealing that around 24 percent of Greece’s output in 2012 was undeclared, 60 percent above an EU average of 15 percent.
The story also features comments by the secretary general for public revenue, Haris Theoharis, who reveals that tax revenue is already increasing in 2014 due to improvements in information technology, better training of staff and more spot-checks taking place.
“Our controllers have gotten even chairs thrown at them,” Hara Mavridou, Greece’s deputy general director of tax audits and public-revenue collection, said in a recent interview. “We want to be tough with those who break the rules and we want a light touch for those who follow the rules to encourage them.”
Greece recently announced it will raffle off luxury cars impounded by tax collectors to citizens who submit invoices and receipts as tickets for the prize draw.