NEWS

Tax claims to be probed

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos asked a public prosecutor to conduct an urgent investigation into claims made at a conference by former and current tax officials about corruption among tax inspectors that is causing millions in lost revenues each year.

Venizelos asked Grigoris Peponis, the prosecutor responsible for financial issues, to examine whether there is any evidence to back up the claims made by Diomidis Spinellis, the former general secretary of information systems at the Finance Ministry, and the head of inspections planning at the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE), Nikos Lekkas.

Speaking at a conference about tax evasion on Tuesday night, Spinellis said that it was common for inspections on businesses suspected of evading their dues to be governed by what he called the ?40-40-20? rule. He said this meant that tax inspectors would agree to reduce the penalty that firms would have to pay by 40 percent in return for receiving a bribe of 40 percent. Spinellis claimed that only 20 percent of the original penalty ended up in public coffers. He suggested that the state loses some 13 billion euros annually, or 5 percent of gross domestic product, as a result of the failure to clamp down on tax evasion.

Lekkas alleged that when companies are due to receive large amounts in tax repayments, inspectors often demand 10 percent of the amount as a bribe in order to ensure the transfer takes place. Lekkas added that a bank transparency law adopted in 1995 had been applied only last year. He suggested that entangled interests between the political and business worlds were to blame for the delay.

The comments by the two men prompted tax inspectors to issue a statement calling for them to propose specific measures to tackle the problem rather than try to impress people with ?fireworks.? They went on to suggest that politicians had to take a large share of the blame for any failures in tax collection.

Spinellis resigned earlier this year over a Finance Ministry decision to scrap penalties for oil trading firms. The issue is currently being investigated by Peponis. Deputy Defense Minister Yiannis Ragousis told Skai TV yesterday that when Spinellis was still at the ministry, the Cabinet was under the impression that progress was being made in the fight against tax evasion.

?At cabinet meetings we were told categorically that everything was being done to fight tax evasion,? he said.