EU ‘se­ri­ously con­cerned’ about tax­man’s sud­den res­ig­na­tion

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In an un­ex­pected move, the high­est of­fi­cial in charge of cracking down on tax eva­sion in Greece, Haris Theocharis, an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion last week, in­vok­ing “per­sonal rea­sons.”

Ex­plain­ing his res­ig­na­tion, Theocharis made clear that all de­ci­sions on tax mat­ters in Greece “were taken by the govern­ment” and not by him­self.

“The govern­ment took de­ci­sions, not me,” Theocharis said.

The sud­den res­ig­na­tion of the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral for Pub­lic Rev­enues has raised con­cerns in Brussels about the in­de­pen­dence of the body in charge of re­dress­ing Greece’s bro­ken taxation sys­tem.

In his state­ment, Theocharis in­di­cated that “strong in­sti­tu­tions need to be built” in or­der to com­bat tax eva­sion in Greece, with­out ex­pand­ing fur­ther.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts in Athens be­lieve he fell into dis­favour be­cause he did not re­duce the pres­sure on tax evaders be­fore the May Euro­pean elec­tions.

The SGPR was ap­pointed in Fe­bru­ary 2013 through a pub­lic of­fer­ing. The po­si­tion, which has a sta­ble man­date of five years, is sup­posed to be in­de­pen­dent in or­der to pro­tect it from po­lit­i­cal pres­sure.

Theocharis ex­plained how­ever that he had not taken any tax mea­sures by him­self, and that all the mea­sures were de­cided by the demo­crat­i­cally elected govern­ment.

“No one had the courage to ask for my res­ig­na­tion,” Theocharis said, in­sist­ing he took the de­ci­sion to re­sign on his own.

“I do not feel like a scape­goat be­cause I have not done any­thing [wrong] in my field... If some people look for a scape­goat, they should look at their own ac­tions,” he noted.

But at the end of his state­ment, Theocharis spoke about high tax eva­sion in Greece, rais­ing ques­tions about the mo­tives be­hind his res­ig­na­tion. “The fight against high tax eva­sion can only be achieved if we build in­sti­tu­tions that will cor­rect the mis­do­ings of the pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he con­cluded.

In an in­ter­view with EurAc­tiv Greece last year, Theocharis said that Athens would be “mer­ci­less” on tax evaders but he com­plained that the then ex­ist­ing le­gal frame­work did not al­low for swift checks on off­shore com­pa­nies.

“Only 40 mln eu­ros were col­lected so far this year,” he had said at the time.

Re­act­ing to the of­fi­cial’s res­ig­na­tion, EU Com­mis­sion spokesper­son Si­mon O’Con­nor ex­pressed con­cerns about the res­ig­na­tion and praised Theocharis’s work to date.

“Since his ap­point­ment to head a semi­au­tonomous ad­min­is­tra­tion within the Fi­nance Min­istry, Mr Theocharis has played a key role in mod­ernising and digi­tis­ing the tax ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­creas­ing rev­enue collection rates, and im­ple­ment­ing ma­jor new tax re­forms for in­come and property taxes,” O’Con­nor said, adding that the res­ig­na­tion was “a cause of se­ri­ous con­cern.”

The Com­mis­sion spokesman con­tin­ued that the EU ex­ec­u­tive would closely mon­i­tor the Greek govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to a more au­ton­o­mous rev­enue ad­min­is­tra­tion, “as well as com­mit­ments to es­tab­lish rig­or­ous, trans­par­ent and merit based pro­cesses for the ap­point­ment of se­nior man­agers in the Greek pub­lic sec­tor.”

The out­go­ing fi­nance min­is­ter, Yan­nis Stournaras, re­acted strongly and crit­i­cised O’Con­nor’s state­ments.

“The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was wrong to ex­press con­cerns. What­ever was achieved in Greece, it was with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the govern­ment, the deputies who sup­port it and es­pe­cially the sac­ri­fices of the Greek people,” Stournaras said.

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