Monday 29 October 2012

Times of universal deceit

'During times of universal deceit,
telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act'.

George Orwell

The Greek journalist Kostas Vaxevanis was arrested last night after publishing the so-called Lagarde list, a list that two years ago was given by the then French finance minister Christine Lagarde to her Greek counterpart, Papakonstantinou.  The list contains the names of approximately 2,000 Greeks who have bank accounts in HSBC in Switzerland many of whom are suspected of using their accounts to hide tax evasion.

The list was never published and no investigation was ever carried out. Successive Greek governments have been accused of trying to cover it up. Giorgos Papakonstantinou, the finance minister at the time who asked Christine Lagarde to pass it on says: 'my interpretation is that they probably got scared. They looked at the names on the list and saw it was full of important people from business and publishing and decided not to go ahead without clear political instructions and cover. It is not insignificant (about 1.5bn euro in total) but the truth is that compared with other lists it's not the treasure trove everyone is looking for. There is a list from the Bank of Greece of 54,000 people who took 22bn out of the country. This is official and can be used in court. The first check found 6 billion that can't be justified and letters are going to 15,000 people on that list who will be taxed at  the 45% rate. .. What we have is a broken and corrupt system'.

'Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the list in their hands, they're trying to arrest the truth and freedom of the press',  Mr Vaxevanis declared. He added: 'If anyone is accountable before the law then it's those ministers who hid the list, lost it and said it didn't exist. I only did my job. I am a journalist and I did my job'.

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Here is another, alternative list to complement the so-called Lagarde list:

It has been estimated that 15 billion euros per year are lost through tax evasion.

Last year 112 tax dodgers were arrested owing over 334 million euros. Most of them were released within days of their arrest having 'promised' that they would repay their debts. Those who have made some payments towards their tax debts only paid 20% of what was owed.

It can take up to 8 years for tax dodgers to be taken to court.

In July of this year there was a post on the the Greek Finance Ministry's website declaring that the Ministry was unable to collect court-ordered fines totalling 12.6 billion euros, or 6.3% of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

The fine of 4.8 billion euros imposed on the Acropolis stockbrokerage for its role in the structured bonds scandal three and a half years ago was never collected - the state did not get a single euro out of that debt.

Most of the laws that have been introduced to bring about the structural reforms needed and which had been previously agreed with the Troika have not been implemented.

30,000 civil servants have been suspended on partial pay.

Since 2010 pensions have been cut by 40% , supplementary pensions are to be slashed by 35%.

In the past 10 years Greece's arms budget has been 4% of its GDP, more than 900 euros per person - the EU average is 1.7%

From having one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe, Greece now has one of the highest. In June alone there were 350 attempts and 50 deaths. The cause of death is usually cited as 'dire economic problems'.

The numbers of the homeless have risen by 25% in the last few months: there are now 13,000 recorded homeless in Athens, a city of 4 million. A lot of them don't have the traditional profile of homeless people. A lot are well dressed and well educated, people who had a home, a job, a car a few months ago - now they have nothing.

The situation in hospitals is dire: there is a shortage of doctors, staff, drugs, equipment and basic first aid. Doctors and pharmacists have been going on strike because some have not been paid for two years. Pharmacies are owed millions for medicines they have dispensed and for which they have not been reimbursed by the state. (117 millions in May and 145 in June - these are the latest figures available to me).

One in four Greeks is unemployed. Youth unemployment has reached 55% compared to 20% four years ago. Every day in June an average of 1,688 people lost their job.

Legislation has gone through aiming to reduce the minimum wage by 22% to about 600 euros a month.

New legislation is being proposed which would curtail workers' rights dramatically. This would consequently increase unemployment and reduce negotiating rights which would lead to further wage cuts.

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So while Greek people are hit by such harsh austerity measures that the situation is reaching humanitarian crisis levels, the rich don't pay their taxes and are able to hide their ill-gotten gains abroad with impunity.  The government is doing nothing about this. Instead of getting the tax dodgers to pay what they owe, the government arrests the whistblower.

Greek law is very selective about who it will punish. Just to give one example, one of the MPs of the neo-Nazis, attacked an MP on television, an act seen by millions; he has been heavily involved in the destruction of the stalls and merchandise of non-white vendors in markets. He has not been prosecuted for either of these.  He has been accused of armed robbery, grievous bodily harm and illegal possession of arms but these allegations have not been properly investigated.

Greek police not only do not take allegations of racist violence seriously, they actively discourage victims against filing complaints and some are warned that they will be detained if they insist on an investigation. Up to date not one single perpetrator of a racist attack has been convicted.

The names on the Lagarde list are meant to include politicians as well as other prominent people and this would explain not only the secrecy surrounding the list but also the arrest. No wonder one of the main slogans in the protests in Athens is 'thieves, thieves'.

  • Kathimerini
  • 'Greek magazine editor in court for naming alleged tax evaders', The Guardian
  • 'Greece austerity: how far still to go?' BBC
  • 'Greece's austerity does not extend to its arms budget', Paul Haydon, 21 March 2012, The Guardian
  • 99GetSmart
  • Daily Kos

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