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Government planning council of ‘wise men’ to tackle tax evasion

The government is planning the creation of a “committee of wise men” to crack down on widespread tax evasion, which continues to thwart Greece’s efforts to emerge from its debt crisis. The former head of National Bank, Vassilis Rapanos, is slated to head the new body, Kathimerini understands.

According to sources, Rapanos, who nearly assumed the post of Finance Minister in June before health problems prompted him to bow out, has been offered the post but has yet to give his response. The aim of the committee would be to overhaul the country’s tax administration to more efficiently target tax evasion.

Both Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras stressed the importance of curbing tax evasion on the sidelines of a European Union leaders’ summit in Brussels at the end of last week where a decision was made to approve the release of some 50 billion euros in rescue loans to Greece. At the same time, ministry officials in Athens submitted to Parliament the first of two tax bills aimed at boosting much-needed revenue. The second bill, to be unveiled early next year, is expected to bring a more radical overhaul of the tax system as well as substituting suspended sentences for large-scale tax evaders with immediate jail terms. Addressing a health sector conference on Saturday, Stournaras described this second bill as “the heavy tax law,” adding that despite the progress made by authorities so far “the road ahead remains long and steep.”

Representatives of Greece’s troika of foreign creditors – the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – are reportedly aware that there is little scope for further tax hikes on austerity-weary Greeks and have emphasized the importance of the authorities finally launching an effective crackdown on tax evasion. According to sources, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Stournaras in Brussels “do something about tax administration reform and tax evasion.”

In an interview with Kathimerini, the European Commissioner overseeing taxation issues, Algirdas Semeta, said Greece could boost annual revenue by around 10 billion euros if it limited tax evasion to the EU average.

Samaras, whose shaky coalition government appears to have been buoyed by last week’s loan decision, is now turning his attention to tackling two of the fundamental sources of the crisis – tax evasion and a lack of growth. He is expected to discuss both issues, along with efforts to push forward stalled privatizations, in scheduled talks tomorrow with his coalition partners, Evangelos Venizelos of PASOK and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left.

The provisions of a tax bill that was submitted to Parliament last week and is expected to be voted on after the holidays will also be on the agenda of talks, as well as general political upheaval. There are fears that support for the parties in the coalition will plummet in opinion polls early next year when fresh cuts to salaries and pensions are felt. The main leftwing opposition SYRIZA, which opposes the terms of Greece’s bailouts, is currently leading in polls.

ekathimerini.com , Saturday December 15, 2012 (17:53)  
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