NEWS

Test for government after tax chief quits

The Finance Ministry’s general secretary for public revenues, Haris Theoharis, resigned from his post on Thursday, abruptly ending a job that was created in 2012 under pressure from Greece’s troika of international creditors with a view to making the country’s tax administration more independent.

The official explanation for the resignation of Theoharis, whose term was scheduled to run until 2018, was “personal reasons,” but it was clear that he had irked some government officials with his methods and that he was pressed to step down. Among the decisions believed to have annoyed government officials was his recent attempt to tax Greek bondholders retroactively, a move that prompted a quick about-turn by the ministry.

Theoharis defended his record. “I don’t feel like I’ve been made a scapegoat because something went wrong,” he said. “Those who feel that something went wrong should look at their own actions,” he said. The 43-year-old emphasized that his job had been to enforce policy decisions, not to formulate them.

Minister Yannis Stournaras, with whom Theoharis is known to have had a good relationship, thanked the latter for his “ethos, integrity and respect for the public interest,” adding that his efforts had bolstered Greece’s tax reforms and helped meet fiscal targets.

Theoharis’s departure made waves beyond Greece too, with a European Commission spokesman expressing “serious concern” at the resignation. Noting that Theoharis had played a “key role” in improving Greece’s finances, Simon O’Connor insisted that Athens must not lapse on reforms. “It is essential that the government ensures full continuity in the delivery of planned reforms to improve the efficiency of the administration, combat fraud and evasion, and secure increasing government revenues,” he said. The statement irked the ministry, which said the EC spokesman was “wrong” to express concern at Theoharis’s departure.

Meanwhile it emerged that Stournaras, who is widely expected to leave the ministry in a cabinet reshuffle in the coming days, met with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, and the IMF’s envoy to Greece, Poul Thomsen, in Paris on Tuesday. IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters in Washington that the three discussed “the way forward for Greece and issues of common interest” though sources indicated that the much-anticipated launch of debt relief talks in the fall was also on the agenda. Rice added that an IMF report on Greece is to be published “in the coming days.”

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