Graft in spotlight again

As a global transparency watchdog reported that Greece is perceived to be the most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union, following inadequate efforts to curb tax evasion and graft, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras on Wednesday heralded tougher penalties for tax cheats.

According to Transparency International, which released its annual global survey of perceived corruption on Wednesday, Greece ranks joint 94th – with India, Senegal, Moldova, Mongolia, Benin and Djibouti – out of 176 countries. Newer EU member states Bulgaria and Romania rank significantly higher than Greece, with Rwanda and Namibia also seen as marginally less corrupt. Presenting the findings of the survey yesterday, the head of TI’s Greek branch, Costas Bakouris, said Greece’s debt problems and graft were inextricably linked. “The economic crisis is connected to corruption and the fight against it is one of the keys for Greece to emerge from its fiscal woes,” he said.

Stournaras insisted during an interview on Skai TV late Tuesday and again in televised comments on Wednesday to President Karolos Papoulias that authorities would come down harder on tax evaders, heralding new legislation foreseeing immediate jail terms for large-scale tax evasion. Under the current law, jail terms are suspended.

The minister, who discussed a draft tax code during talks late on Tuesday with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, is to brief officials from the two junior partners in the coalition on its contents at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Both PASOK and Democratic Left, as well as several MPs from conservative New Democracy, object to additional burdens on middle-income citizens and families. Agreement must be reached soon however as the bill must go to Parliament by December 11 in order to be voted on before the House adjourns for Christmas.

In a related development, the secretary-general of the Swiss Association of Private Bankers, Michel Derobert, revealed that Greeks hold 38 billion euros in Swiss banks, significantly less than earlier press reports had suggested.

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