ECONOMY

Heat turned up on tax cheats

Upon his return from his summer break yesterday, Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou’s first meeting of the day was with the head of the financial crimes squad (SDOE), Yiannis Kapeleris. As government officials nervously watch budget revenues fall short of targets, Papaconstantinou agreed with the SDOE boss to set up within September five different teams, consisting of a total of 250 staff members, that will go after tax cheats. The teams will be based in either Athens or Thessaloniki but will cover the entire country, checking high-income taxpayers, those who have forgotten to declare assets, such as pools and boats, and luxury-home owners. The checks, which will also continue to focus on busy tourist districts, will also cover value-added tax declarations as well as residents who owe money to the tax office but refuse to pay up. The Finance Ministry is out to catch as many tax cheats as possible, as they cost the government some 30 billion euros a year. With budget revenues falling short of targets by 772 million euros in the first seven months of 2010, the shortfall is likely to reach 2 billion euros by the end of the year. Finance Ministry sources said yesterday that the SDOE checks will involve groups of between 20-50 employees tackling one problem area at a time, such as checking luxury yacht owners before moving on to doctors with unusually low income tax declarations. In order to give tax inspectors greater power, SDOE officials will have access to bank account details, files at stock brokerages and notary offices among other areas, in order to round up tax cheats. In a bid to boost the efficiency of employees, the ministry also plans to replace about 400 inspectors with employees from other Finance Ministry positions.