Athens court convicts seven corrupt tax officers; In typical Greek fashion they walk free
Justice was finally served in a country where impunity prevails. An Athens appeals court convicted seven corrupt tax officials of embezzling millions of euros of state funds. They were sentenced to a total of 70 years in jail.
Despite the fact that the sentences were wholly suspended and the seven tax officials were released, the ruling is big news in Greece – a country where convictions against public officials on corruption-related charges are rare.
The seven officials, whose names have not been released to the press, were charged with embezzling a total of 28 million euros from the state in tax write-offs.
Even though they were initially exonerated (twice), Greece’s Supreme Court reopened the case in January based on new evidence from an investigation launched by Grigoris Peponis, the country’s top financial prosecutor.
According to the Athens daily Ethnos, the newspaper that broke the story, the tax officials could not explain how they could have bought the numerous luxury villas and other large real estate holdings, including a hotel on the island of Skopelos, as well as off-shore companies, found in their possession.
The case was built on a formal complaint made in 2001 by Aliki Kyriakaki, a retired tax inspector. She had claimed that several of the seven convicted officials had tried to pressure her into reducing tax fines (totaling some 36 million euros) owed by a large company in Athens in 1999.
“The court’s decision comes after 11 years of legal proceedings,” Yannis Apatsidis, the lawyer representing Kyriakaki, told the Pappas Post. “Justice was finally served… the court ruling is a major blow to all those who believe they are above the law.”
Peponis, who had threatened to resign earlier this year after claiming a “variety of organized interests” were derailing his investigations, is currently looking into various instances in which tax officials granted tax rebates exceeding 50,000 euros. It is part of his ongoing investigation of reports of widespread corruption in tax offices.
"Unfortunately in Greece, financial offence is not considered a crime and when we say fight against financial crime, we mean war," Peponis told reporters in January.
The statement was made after Yannis Kapeleris, a finance ministry general secretary, was charged with failing to collect fines imposed on fuel and heating oil suppliers for smuggling.
Tax evasion remains endemic in Greece. But the cash-strapped country is under pressure from its international lenders (the European Union and the International Monetary Fund) to improve tax collection.
This is why Greek authorities stepped up the prosecution of tax sinners last year.
According to Reuters, 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.
Greece has about 60 billion euros ($77.52 billion) in unpaid taxes, a figure equivalent to about a quarter of its economy.