Greece braces for visit by troika

As a delegation of inspectors representing the country?s international creditors prepares to return to Athens on Thursday to check whether authorities have pushed through the necessary reforms to secure the fourth installment of a multi-billion-euro rescue package, due in March, government and banking officials sought to douse renewed speculation about Greece resorting to debt restructuring.

Visiting officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – known as the troika – are to focus on reforms to labor relations, loss-making public companies and the opening up of so-called closed professions. Speculation has mounted that they will ask the government to take more austerity measures to curb a ballooning budget deficit and raise some 12 billion euros in much-needed revenue between 2012 to 2014.

Sources have told Kathimerini that measures being pushed through by the Finance Ministry to boost revenue – including plans for harsher penalties for tax evaders – have faced resistance from within the ruling party, notably from Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis, who is worried that tougher penalties will lead to further overcrowding in the country?s cramped jails. While Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou wants tax evasion to be classified as a crime when it involves 50,000 euros or more, Kastanidis wants this to apply to cases involving 80,000 euros or more, noting that a lower threshold would result in Greek prisons filling up with ?tax evasion suspects awaiting trial.?

In a related development, Papaconstantinou said Greece would avoid restructuring its debt by implementing deep-reaching structural reforms and boosting growth. In comments to Sunday?s Eleftherotypia newspaper, Papaconstantinou said he planned to return to the markets this year. Meanwhile Bank of Greece Governor Giorgos Provopoulos stressed in comments published in Ethnos that ?the mere talk of debt restructuring hurts the country.