NEWS

Papoulias prods PM over fighting tax evasion

President Karolos Papoulias, presiding on Sunday over an event marking the return of democracy to Greece in 1974 following a seven-year military dictatorship, urged the government to do something that many Greek have been demanding for some months: Ensure that everyone is paying their fair share in the effort to overcome the debt crisis.

Speaking in the wake of the securing of a 159-billion-euro support package for Greece at the eurozone summit on Thursday, Papoulias, as he did on Friday when he met Prime Minister George Papandreou, attempted to dispel any thoughts of celebrations and urged the country?s politicians to focus on the task ahead.

?The time has come for all those who have been concealing their incomes to pay,? said Papoulias in reference to the sizable problem of tax evasion, which the government has so far found difficult to combat.

Earlier this month, the Finance Ministry revealed that 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. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that the government would hire help from the private sector to tackle 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.

In a low-key ceremony on Sunday, Papandreou also tried to avoid issuing a statement that would make him appear to be reveling in the positive mood after the agreement in Brussels last week.

?We have a long way to go but history shows that when we stand united, overcoming differences and disagreements, and when we focus on a common target, no obstacle is too big to overcome and no sacrifice goes to waste,? he said.

The obstacles that lie ahead for Greece were emphasized by a report yesterday that indicated some private sector bondholders have not yet committed to participating in a part of the package for Greece that will provide 37 billion euros in funds to Athens over the next three years.

The Financial Times reported yesterday that the UK?s Royal Bank of Scotland, Germany?s DZ Bank and LBBW and Austria?s Erste Bank, which between them hold about 3 billion euros of Greek sovereign debt, are among the lenders that have not yet committed to take part in a scheme to swap or roll over their Greek debt for bonds that mature in 30 years.