Hired guns sought to catch tax cheats

Over the next few weeks there will be a redoubling of efforts — which will include the help of private contractors — to pursue Greece?s biggest tax evaders, the government said yesterday.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos met Prime Minister George Papandreou to inform him of his plans to clamp down on Greeks who are either in tax arrears or who have avoided paying taxes.

According to a statement issued by the Finance Ministry, some 900,000 people owe 41.1 billion euros. However, the vast amount of this money is owed by a very small number of people: 5 percent of tax dodgers owe 85 percent of the outstanding amount. Just 14,700 individuals, companies or organizations owe 37 billion euros.

The government?s inability to tackle tax evasion since the adoption of austerity measures last year has led to criticism from its creditors but also by Greeks who have seen their indirect and direct taxation rise substantially since the government entered its 110-billion-euro loan agreement with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Venizelos indicated that the government would concentrate its efforts on tackling tax evasion among the 6,500 individuals and 8,200 businesses or organizations that owe 37 billion euros. Each of these owes more than 150,000 euros but, according to the ministry, some are likely to be public sector organizations while others could be individuals who have died.

However, this should still leave 10,000 tax dodgers to be investigated, the ministry said. In a break from past practice, the government will hire help from the private sector. This will include lawyers, accountants and inspectors, who will be hired ?swiftly,? the ministry said.