Germany's efforts to encourage Greece on a road to economic reform are continuing, after a German state presented Athens with a list of more than 10,000 suspected tax evaders with billions of euros in Swiss bank accounts.
The federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia said it had given Greek authorities information on suspected tax dodgers to help Athens fulfill its promise to international creditors to crack down on tax evasion. The information concerns 10,588 private individuals and companies from Greece with assets estimated to be worth up to a total of 4 billion Swiss francs ($3.92 billion).
"This is an important step for the Greek government to create more honesty regarding tax in the country," state Finance Minister Norbert Walter-Borjans said in a statement on Wednesday.
Greece's deputy Finance Minister Trifon Alexiadis responded to the offering. "It will not stay in a drawer for three years," he told reporters, after promising to analyze the data. "The list will be evaluated… and we will see what is hidden behind it. All the services of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice will cooperate so that we have results as soon as possible."
Alexiadis also said authorities would ask Switzerland for additional information if needed. "This is a great chance for our community," he said.
Tax evasion costs the struggling Greek economy somewhere between 10 billion euros ($10.61 billion) and 33 billion euros ($35 billion) each year. This is believed to be partly because of poorly trained administrators and inefficient systems, as well as allegations of corruption and cronyism. Greece's large shadow economy also contributes, and Illicit dealings were estimated to make up 27.5 percent of the country's GDP in 2009.
When the new government led by the left-wing Syriza party came to power in January it promised to tackle tax evaders. This aim had to be reaffirmed as a condition for Greece's latest bailout deal, which was worth 86 billion euros ($91 billion) and agreed in late August.
Then, last month, Greece's deputy finance minister Alexiadis — the person in charge of tax revenues — received a bullet in the post. The accompanying letter was signed by a group called "Kokkini Fraxia," which translates as "Red Faction," and read: "Until the hour 0, you and your family will know what fear means."
The state of North Rhine Westphalia has bought data on tax evaders from Swiss authorities since 2010. Sources close to the state prosecutor in Cologne say about 30 legal investigations into international banks and their branches are under way.
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