Greece Tax Scandal Shifts Focus From Collection Problem
The tax scandal that reignited in Greece over the holidays had all the makings of a grade-B drama. A former finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, was accused of scrubbing his relatives’ names from a CD containing the identities of thousands of possible Greek tax dodgers. Within hours, his chief political rival tossed him from their party.
Mr. Papaconstantinou, in turn, hinted darkly that he was the victim of a plot masking malfeasance at higher levels.
While the firestorm may have made for political theater of a sort, it has diverted attention from a much bigger problem: Greece, its foreign lenders say, has fallen woefully short of its tax collection targets and is still not moving hard enough to tackle widespread tax evasion — long tolerated, particularly among the country’s richest citizens.
Greek officials agreed to the targets as part of an international lending pact last year, but there is no penalty for missing them. In recent weeks, however, two reports by Greece’s foreign lenders have found that Athens pulled in less than half of the additional tax income that it expected last year and performed fewer than half of the expected audits.
One report said that Athens had brought in a little less than $1.3 billion in additional taxes of the $2.6 billion it had hoped to collect in 2012. Only 88 major taxpayers, including corporations, were the subject of full-scope audits, well below a target of 300, the report said, while just 467 audits of high-wealth individuals were completed, compared with a goal of 1,300.