ECONOMY

Annual levy imposed on Internet cafes

The Finance Ministry yesterday announced that the special annual levy imposed on electronic game machines will be extended to Internet cafes as of January 1, 2002. A circular said that all computers installed for profit-making purposes in hotels, coffee shops or any other enterprise designed for use by the public will be equated with video machines and be subject to the same levy. Internet cafe owners will have to purchase a special sticker for each computer by December 31, proving that the levy has been paid for 2002. The levy is scaled according to the size of town and type of installation. It ranges from 90 euros per machine in communities with a population of below 1,000, rising to 300 euros in communities of that size but in tourist, archaeological or spa locations, 430 euros in villages of between 1,000 and 10,000 people, 530 euros in towns of between 10,000 and 50,000 people, 900 euros in towns and cities above 50,000 people, and 1,200 euros in the common rooms of clubs and associations. The measure was criticized by London-based businessman Stelios Haji-Ioannou, whose group of enterprises includes an easyInternetCafe chain and relies on use of the Web for much of its air transport arm, easyJet. I was surprised to see that electronic computers are treated like slot machines… It is curious that the Greek government effectively makes prohibitive the growth of this important activity when in most countries the spreading of the use of electronic computers is encouraged and subsidized, he said in a statement. The number of computers installed in the 300 or so Internet cafes in Greece today is estimated at 3,000 and growing. Sources said owners intend to ignore the measure as a means of forcing the government to impose fines, and then seek collective redress. The annual revenue that the levy will produce is estimated at about 750 million drachmas.