Greece to Target 80,000 Wealthy Tax Avoiders

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses a news conference following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin March 23, 2015. Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Greek ruling party Syriza's new anti-corruption chief is investigating 80,000 of the wealthiest Greeks it believes have at least €200,000 (£145,000) each in foreign bank accounts.

Panagiotis Nikoloudis, who was appointed under Alexis Tsipras's radical left-wing government which swept into power in January, vowing to crack down on widespread tax evasion, has widened his hunt for the so-called "tax cheats".

He said in an interview with The Times that the original list of 2,000 tax evaders, the so-called Lagarde List, which was drawn up by the IMF and handed to the Greek government in 2010, falls far short of the real number who are draining the country's coffers.

"I'm not concerned about the so-called Lagarde list," Nikoloudis said. "It's just a footnote in this overriding bid to hunt down tax cheats. Most importantly, though, the money which the Greek state stands to rake in from that list, in connection to fines on undeclared incomes, is peanuts compared to what can be collected from this roster of 80,000 individuals."

Around 4,500 of the 80,000 ­of those suspected of tax evasion have so far been audited, raising hopes that the Greek authorities will recover more than €3 billion in fines by the end of June. The finance ministry is currently considering hiring more tax collection officers, and Germany, Greece's biggest creditor, has offered to send thousands of tax experts to assist the operation.

Nikoloudis's comments come in the wake of a report, published over the weekend by the German Institute for Macroeconomic Research (IMK) and the Hans Böckler Foundation, which found that between 2008-2012, during the worst of Greece's financial crisis, the tax burden on the poor increased by 337% while the burden on upper-income classes increased by only 9%. The country's poor lost 86% of their income, while the rich lost between 17-20%.

While all social classes suffered income loss due to cuts and tax increases during the economic crisis, low- and middle-income households were particularly badly affected, according to the report. This was largely due to a sharp increase in unemployment and tax increases.

"Inequalities due to the crisis were exacerbated by the fact that the tax burden on the weaker groups of the population was much heavier than that of the stronger ones. It can be argued that the burden, e.g. on the property of the richest or even the less rich strata, had been unduly nonexistent before the crisis," concludes the report.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that another Greek restaurant in Germany has become a victim of German frustration over ongoing bailout negotiations between Greece and its largest Eurozone creditor. The owners of the Athos Restaurant, near Munchen in the heart of Bavaria in Germany, have been bombarded by numerous emails, letters and phone calls, accusing them of being "liars, cheaters and tax evaders".

Elsa Athanasiou, one of the restaurant's owners, told the German media: "Somebody does not like us because we are Greeks and that is not fair. We invest our money here, we have employees, we pay taxes. They got the wrong ones."