Could the Greek government look any worse? After the authorities spent two years studiously ignoring a list of rich Greeks with Swiss bank accounts who might be evading taxes, officials moved like lightning to arrest and prosecute Kostas Vaxevanis, the respected editor of Hot Doc magazine, for outing that list. Then it took a judge just a few hours in court to declare Vaxevanis not guilty of the trumped-up privacy invasion charges.
Yes, it's that bad. Here is a government that looks totally uninterested in making rich Greeks (many of them their colleagues and chums) pay their fair share. Meanwhile, it's squeezing middle class workers and pensioners even harder with new pay cuts and tax hikes – supposedly the "hard actions" needed to get Greece's accounts in order. And when the government gets called out on it, the response is to arrest and try a journalist in record time! Hardly the impression leaders should be sending just as EU creditors ponder whether to loan them more billions of euros to stave off bankruptcy.
As Vaxevanis noted in his magazine, the more than 2,000 Greek account holders on the list leaked by a former HSBC bank employee haven't necessarily been avoiding their tax obligations. Having a Swiss account isn't a crime. But considering that widespread tax evasion is one of the reasons Greece is in the mess it's in, the government's unwillingness to even investigate the list is, as Vaxevanis says, criminal.
It's past time for Greek leaders to get serious about changing the culture of tax avoidance that permeates the upper reaches of Greek society. Wealthy Greek shippers, doctors, lawyers and other self-employed professionals and businesses routinely understate their income, leaving the rest of their fellow citizens to bear the brunt of the suffering. The hope now is that the list Vaxevanis brought to light – and his swift vindication for doing so – will help finally force an end to the brazen impunity for the rich. The country urgently needs it.
Read more: Der Spiegel details the ways in which well-off Greeks avoid paying their fair share, while the middle class gets ground into the dirt with successive waves of austerity.
Sources: Avaaz, Global Post, New York Times, University of Chicago, BBC, Der Spiegel