Athens to raid bank safes of tax cheats

Greece’s government is raiding savers’ safe deposit boxes to raise revenue and stamp out tax evasion.

Tryfon Alexiadis, the deputy finance minister, said yesterday that Greeks owing more than €150,000 in back taxes would be targeted. Those suspected of tax evasion would also come under scrutiny and their bank deposit boxes prised open without notice.

“Safe deposit boxes across the country will be subject to these inspections immediately,” Mr Alexiadis told an Athens-based TV network.

Under the unprecedented measure, tax inspectors will be allowed to open bank boxes and confiscate as much as half of the cash they find. Stocks, bonds, jewellery and even works of art will be seized in their entirety.

Mr Alexiadis said tax cheats failing to declare incomes of €100,000 or more would also face criminal charges. The crackdown highlights the desperate lengths to which the authorities are going to keep the economy afloat.

The lefwing Syriza government won re-election last month vowing to fix the county’s broken economy by inflicting even more austerity, stamping out decades of cronyism and ratcheting up pressure on the oligarchs and artful tax dodgers who have been depriving the state of at least €30 billion a year in undeclared wealth.

“We are determined to bring in between €15 billion and €20 billion from this crackdown,” said Mr Alexiadis. “Everyone has to contribute.”

Opinion polls published before Syriza’s re-election revealed that seven in 10 Greeks thought the authorities were not doing enough to tackle tax cheats, preferring instead to impose more spending cuts and tax rises to make up for the lost revenue. The raid on bank vaults is one of a series of measures incorporated in laws that will be submitted to parliament today.

Failure to approve them in a vote this week could block the next tranche of €3 billion from international creditors. Athens needs a slice of that money by next week to cover state expenses, including pensions and civil servants’ salaries.

When the government imposed capital controls earlier this year as the country teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, thousands of Greeks stashed more than €10 billion of their savings in mattresses and safe deposit boxes at banks, according to balance sheets released by the Bank of Greece.

Officials at the central bank and the finance ministry estimate that an additional ¤30 billion has been hidden in bank safes or under mattresses since the start of the financial crisis in 2009.