The man brought in to oversee and improve tax collections in Greece, Haris Theoharis, was forced out by the government for being too aggressive in chasing high-profile tax cheats, the The Bloomberg news agency reported.
Haris Theoharis said he was leaving for “personal reasons,” but the news agency said it was really because “he pursued claims against 300 high-net-worth individuals,” raising doubts whether Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was serious about tax reform and if the government is still protecting the wealthy.
Theoharis was hired for a position created on the demand of the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) in what was supposed to be a five-year tenure insulated from political pressure.
There was no explanation why Theoharis didn’t complain if he was, indeed, canned. His departure came only days after the then-Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras had said, ironically, that the tax chief wasn’t being aggressive enough in bringing in revenues.
Theoharis is being replaced by Katerina Savvaidou but his resignation has left the international lenders fearful Samaras will backslide on commitments now that a recovery is burgeoning by the end of the year from a crushing economic crisis and six-year-long recession.
It was reported that during Theoharis term “Greece hit its tax-revenue target, and reviewed the tax returns of about 300 rich individuals, resulting in fines of 80 million euros,” disputing the allegations from Stournaras, who left to become Governor of the Bank of Greece.
Manolis Galenianos, a University of London professor, told Bloomberg that “the motivation for replacing him seems to be a political desire to loosen tax-collection efforts.”
He added that, “dismissing an official who is supposed to be appointed for a five-year term without providing serious justification for it makes a mockery of the independence of the tax-collection authority.”
The agency noted that the work of the new General Secretary of State Revenue will be quite difficult given that Greece is suffering from the continuous tax evasion.
Savvaidou, in an interview in April had told Bloomberg: “Historical and political factors, including a weak state, gave rise to widespread tax evasion in Greece. For many years, Greeks knew they could get away with it. That’s slowly changing as the law and government controls improve.”