Illegal street trade booming in crisis

With the turnover of illegal street traders having increased by 20 percent this year as the impact of the global financial crisis bites hard into the revenues of legitimate enterprises, municipal police in Athens and other major cities are proposing measures to tackle the problem. The total turnover from illegal trade in Greece is estimated at between 10 and 17 billion euros. The sales of illegal street vendors in Thessaloniki alone account for some 4 billion euros in lost state revenue – half in lost value-added tax and half in lost income tax – according to business associations in the northern city. The situation is even worse in Athens where most pedestrianized streets in the center are regularly occupied by migrant traders displaying their wares on bedsheets. «The financial crisis has aggravated the problem as an increasing number of consumers are opting for cheap black market goods,» a report by the capital’s municipal police force notes. The report calls for stricter inspections at the border to block such goods. «If illegal importers realize that they face intensive border checks they will send their consignments elsewhere,» the report adds. Municipal police in both Athens and Thessaloniki also draw attention to their limited powers, noting that they are not allowed to use force to restrain vendors who become violent when reprimanded for their illicit trade. In Thessaloniki, 10 municipal police officers were injured last year after attempting to arrest illegal street vendors. Another problem is the ineffectiveness of imposing fines. Thessaloniki’s municipal police carried out 1,350 raids last year, confiscating several tons of illegal goods, and imposed half a million euros in fines. But hardly any of these fines were paid as most of the illegal vendors have scant finances. According to the head of the capital’s municipal police, Stelios Krassas, an effective way of controlling the illegal trade would be to charge vendors a nominal 1-euro fee to participate in legitimate street markets.

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