Leaked emails on Greek tax evasion embarrass government

ATHENS Wed Aug 1, 2012 12:08pm EDT

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ATHENS (Reuters) - A leaked document from Greek officials complaining they could not justify ambitious targets for proceeds from fighting tax evasion has embarrassed Greece's new government and led to the arrest of a senior finance official.

Lambros Liosis, budget department chief at the ministry's General Accounting Office, appeared before prosecutors on Wednesday after being charged with violating personal data and state secrecy laws for leaking the document.

He was released pending trial after his arrest on Friday. He denies the accusations, saying he "would not publish a document bearing his name" and that they were taken from his office. His lawyers said Liosis was innocent and that whoever leaked the document had "political motives".

A photo of the document, which includes a chain of emails dated July 24 and 25 on the country's struggle to raise money from fighting tax evasion, was published on a Greek blog site.

It includes an email from one finance ministry official saying revenues from battling evasion would be 800 million euros less in 2013 than projected in a mid-term plan.

Another official from the fiscal data department complains that a target of raising 3.8 billion euros from the plan over 2013-2016 could not be justified, given a lack of numbers recorded in 2011 and no forecasts available for 2014-2016.

Patchy tax collection has long been a major problem in Greece, which is trying to show the so-called troika of EU and IMF lenders that it is on the path to reforming itself and deserves more aid to avoid bankruptcy.

"With this data, the General Accounting Office cannot argue during the technical meeting with the Troika on Thursday that we must include, even just symbolically, an amount for 2013 (i.e. 300 million)," the finance ministry official writes in the email to Greece's general secretary of fiscal policy, in which Liosis and other officials are copied.

"Without further documentation, it will also be difficult to convince them on a political level to accept a serious amount and the gap for 2013 widens by 924 million (and for 2014, by 651 million)."

The official then suggests the GAO "have a line" on tax evasion based on benchmarks like the number of new inspectors hired or audits made, or come along to the meeting with the lenders.

"Otherwise we will just have to accept their numbers," he concludes.

A finance ministry spokesman had no immediate comment.

Liosis's arrest adds an embarrassing twist to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's efforts to convince skeptical European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders that the country has turned the corner in its efforts to reform.

EU and IMF inspectors are currently in Athens on a visit to determine whether the near-bankrupt country is complying with the terms of its 130-billion-euro bailout. The IMF said it had no comment on the matter.

The lenders are expected to stay at least until Greek political leaders hammer out a deal on nearly 12 billion euros in austerity cuts for the next two years.

(Additional reporting by Dina Kyriakidou. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

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