ATHENS Jan 23 A famous singer and a
retired basketball star were on a list of 4,000 top tax dodgers
released by the Greek government as part of a name-and-shame
policy to get evaders to pay up.
Tax evasion is endemic in Greece and its international
lenders, the EU and the IMF, have insisted Athens improve tax
collection if they are to continue bankrolling the debt-laden
The list released late on Sunday includes a host of
convicted tax frauds and failed businessmen, a prominent singer,
the husband of a former government minister as well as a retired
basketball star who was recently released from a two-year jail
term for illegally owning an arms cache.
Athens has been threatening to publish the list for months
and had to change privacy laws to follow through on the threat.
It had been kept in a safe in parliament, where lawmakers were
allowed to read it without taking notes.
Greek authorities have stepped up the prosecution of tax
sinners since Lucas Papademos, a technocrat banker, was named
prime minister in November with a mandate to push through budget
cuts and economic reforms demanded by the country's lenders.
Police have already detained a string of businessmen for tax
arrears and most of them will face trial over the coming months.
Lifting the veil of secrecy that has so far protected tax
dodgers will convey a sense of justice to honest taxpayers
squeezed by an unprecedented tax onslaught as part of
EU/IMF-imposed austerity policies, analysts said.
"It will also protect honest people from doing business with
unreliable partners," said Dimitris Mardas, an economics
professor at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece's
second-biggest city, which was rocked by revelations last week
that a top local tax official was part of an extortion racket.
The 4,000 people featured in the list owed Greece about 15
billion euros in total, but publishing it may be largely
symbolic. Much of that money cannot be recovered, Mardas said.
"Many just can't pay -- some are even owed money by the
government itself," he said.
Topping the list with arrears of 952 million euros is a
convicted tax fraud who is already serving a 504-year prison
sentence for issuing fake receipts to companies that wanted to
lower their tax bill.
Greece has about 60 billion euros ($77.52 billion) in unpaid
taxes, a figure equivalent to about a quarter of its economy,
according to an EU report published in November.
Just 8 billion euros of that amount can be quickly
recovered, the EU said, though even that is a sum big enough to
cut the country's budget deficit by half.