Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou on Tuesday expressed opposition to a State Legal Council ruling according to which officers of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) are entitled to raid the homes and businesses of taxpayers with debts to the state without having a judicial official present.
Citing Article 9 of the Greek Constitution, according to whose provisions “a citizen’s home is his haven,” Athanasiou said that the right of tax authorities to do house searches “must be studied.”
He added that, according to the Constitution, searches on homes or businesses can only be carried out by tax officials if a judicial official is present.
After being asked for guidance by the ministry, the State Legal Council voted in favor of house searches by unaccompanied SDOE officers being legal by 14 votes to 10. In its reasoning, the judges deemed that a prosecutor’s presence is only required if the planned search is being conducted in order to gather evidence related to a suspected crime, to arrest a suspected criminal or to stop a crime from being committed.
However, in view of the narrowness of the verdict, and the media outcry provoked by the prospect of SDOE officers barging into taxpayers’ homes, the ministry asked the Supreme Court to intervene and issue a final decision.
The upheaval was prompted by a report in the Ethnos newspaper over the weekend according to which SDOE is planning to adopt tactics similar to those used by the United States Inland Revenue Service.
The Ethnos report said that cash and properties could be immediately confiscated.