Bid to recoup cash lost through graft

Legislation aimed at recouping millions of euros deprived from the state through graft and corruption, by allowing those who return stolen funds to be spared prison time, is to be submitted in Parliament next week.

The measures, drafted by Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou, aim to raise some 2.5 billion euros in much-needed revenue.

According to the proposed provisions, anyone charged with tax evasion, money laundering, submitting inaccurate source of wealth (“pothen esches”) declarations, breach of faith or embezzlement at the expense of the state will be able to secure lenient treatment if they return the money. And the quicker they return it, the better deal they will get. For instance, if all the money is returned before the suspect faces a magistrate, they will get a three-year prison sentence instead of a life term. If the cash is given back before the case goes to trial, a life term will become seven years, or 10 years if the money is given back by the time the case goes to appeal. If a suspect is cleared, the money will be returned to them.

One key provision allows prosecutors to offer suspects who are charged with misdemeanors or crimes carrying a maximum punishment of 10 years the option of paying off his or her sentence. If a “deal” is reached between the prosecutor and defendant on the size of the sum that must be paid to avoid jail time, judicial procedures will be stopped.

A similar system is in operation in other European countries. In Germany, of 4.5 million cases where suspects were given the option of paying to evade jail time, only 700,000 ended up going to trial. Enforcing such a system in Greece could ease the burden on courts, where more than a million cases are pending.

Other provisions in the bill allow judicial authorities the right to immediately seize and liquidate the assets of suspects charged with stealing money from the state.

In a bid to show that authorities are serious about leading by example, ministers, MPs, mayors and regional governors will not be eligible for the special treatment outlined in the bill.

In a related development, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said he expected “results soon” from investigations into the Lagarde list of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts and other lists being probed for possible tax evasion.