OPINION

Time to pay

I wonder in whose pockets the money stolen from Greece?s taxpayers ended up. It must be a big chunk but I am not at all sure that (a) it can be traced, (b) it can be claimed by the state or (c) that the wrongdoers can be punished.

So who has it now? First, a bunch of state contractors who have been squandering the country?s wealth for decades while enjoying impunity from politicians and state officials which, naturally, came at a price. A large percentage of commissions for things like the procurement of medical supplies, military equipment or telecommunications ended up in offshore companies or Swiss-style tax havens. It may be hard to trace illegal money flows, but the state can still go after it if the money has not been declared for tax purposes. Moreover, the state can take advantage of the existing mood that would probably urge many current and retired state employees to reveal past misdeeds.

A second group who made a killing is a certain class of politicians and a system of power which depends on them. No doubt the biggest kickbacks came from the mammoth arms procurement programs. These patriots, as it were, took the money in cash from foreign executives and stashed it in safe havens.

However, the authorities have considerable evidence on offshore companies such as Torcaso, which has been implicated in transactions of weapons and luxury vehicles that were the property of ex-politicians. Even if the latter are protected by immunity, tax officials have the power and the obligation to track down the black money and investigate cases of tax fraud.

If Prime Minister George Papandreou really wanted to make people feel better about making all the sacrifices demanded of them by the memorandum, he should first take steps to strengthen their confidence in the rule of law. Government officials must request the help of foreign states to recruit experienced foreign investigators and punish the wrongdoers. Will they? Although they may want to in theory, they will have to deal with the same people who recently withheld details on the new OPAP gaming company contract, as if it were some state secret.

The state didn?t go bankrupt just because of some shrewd politicians or because some state contractors made money at the expense of the public purse. The truth is many chose to turn a blind eye because they got favors in return. However, now it is a matter of principle that the government punishes some of the most provocative scumbags or they will one day see the same people return to score some pretty big bargains, using the money stashed away in secret bank accounts and tax havens.