Declaring war on tax evasion

Officials hope new digital capabilities will help recover as much as half of the sums owed

Declaring war on tax evasion

Officials are using warlike language when talking about their new efforts to fight tax evasion.

“We are adding another weapon to our arsenal, so we can achieve even more immediate results,” Giorgos Pitsilis, head of the Independent Public Revenue Authority (AADE), said Wednesday when talking about the new capabilities of the authority’s operations center.

Pitsilis, along with Finance Minister Kostis Hatzidakis and Deputy Finance Minister Harry Theoharis, visited the operations center Wednesday to observe its capability to coordinate tax inspections in real time with agents in the field – be it in shops, on passenger ships, at customs, or elsewhere – and to provide instant information about tax statistics and individual records that will allow inspectors to zero in on specific individuals and businesses.

Expansion is on the way: By fall, the operations center will employ 100 people and be able to communicate with 300 tax inspectors simultaneously. That’s the weapon the authority’s director is alluding too.

What is the level of tax invasion? Theoharis, in an interview with Skai TV, put it at €8-10 billion, of which he says up to half could be recoverable. And that sum is separate from also considerable social security debts.

The government’s renewed determination to catch tax dodgers, something repeated by all its predecessors over the years, comes after the deadline for state debtors to sign up to a generous repayment scheme – up to 10 years of installments – expired on July 31 with very few takers coming forward.

Hatzidakis outlined six steps the government will take in the stepped-up war on tax evasion: They include a bill of information exchange with platforms based abroad, such as Airbnb and e-shopping sites, with a block on sales being the price of their non-compliance; a provision to connect points of sale (POS) with cash registers; expanding POS to more retail categories; payment of welfare benefits through credit cards; and a digital consignment archive.

The government is also considering making rent payments by credit card mandatory and limiting cash purchases to  below the current €500, although this could be shot down by the European Central Bank. 

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