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European Debt Crisis

Greece cracks down on tax evaders

Joanna Kakissis Jun 11, 2010
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European Debt Crisis

Greece cracks down on tax evaders

Joanna Kakissis Jun 11, 2010
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by Joanna Kakissis

It’s a frantic morning at Yannis Kapeleris’s office. He’s the top financial crimes investigator in the country. His job is to track down Greece’s tax evaders, who could be anyone from plumbers to pop singers to politicians. “It’s our main goal to get tax evaders to pay,” he says, “because, as you know, the government here has implemented some strong austerity measures that are really weighing down working people.”

Kapeleris knows what he’s up against. At least 10 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product isn’t taxed all. That’s $37 billion a year.

Yiannis Tsarmougelis, an economics professor at the University of the Aegean, says part of the problem is that tax evaders aren’t scared of getting caught. “We have a very weak legal system that does not allow someone who evades taxes, for instance, to be facing a sentence to jail,” he says.

Another big reason Greeks don’t pay their taxes, Tsarmougelis says, is because they don’t trust their government. Many people here call their politicians “kleftes”, the Greek word for thieves.

“I want people that robbed us to give back the money,” says Dimitris, a store manager, who explains that politicians stole so much taxpayer money over the past 50 years that they’ve bankrupted Greece. “It’s not enough for them to get into jail. Because if they got into jail, we’re going to be paying for their food in the jail.”

Tax investigator Yannis Kapeleris says he wants people to trust that this government won’t be corrupt. He notes he has hundreds of investigators working from dawn until midnight to make sure everyone pays their taxes this year. His office has already fined tax evaders more than $2 billion, four times more than during the same period last year. “I think people really want justice,” he says.

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