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Journalist Arrested In Greece For Publishing List of Possible Tax-Evaders 344

Posted by samzenpus
from the naughty-list dept.
kyriacos writes "The Greek government is charging journalist Kostas Vaxevanis with violation of the data privacy law for publishing a list of about 2,000 Greeks who hold accounts with the HSBC bank in Switzerland. While more and more austerity measures are being taken against the people of Greece, there is still no investigation of tax evasion for the people on this list by the government. The list has been in the possession of the Greek government since 2010."
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Journalist Arrested In Greece For Publishing List of Possible Tax-Evaders

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  • by multiben (1916126) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:06PM (#41799415)
    Evading tax is every Greeks' right and what has made Greece the economic powerhouse it is today.
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:36PM (#41799609)

      My first thought was, "Who needs a list? Just pick up a copy of the Athens Telephone Book."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dahamma (304068)

      You joke, but my Greek friend (who's family has a house in Athens that they probably don't pay taxes one) freely admitted tax evasion is practically a national pastime in Greece. They really do consider it not only a right, but almost an obligation.

      And you wonder how the Olympics almost bankrupted the government? Well, that attitude towards taxes makes the statement "oh, all of the tax revenues from increased tourism and business in Greece will more than make up for the expenses" a bit hard to back up...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @02:35AM (#41801727)

        Well, if your friend told you so, then by all means you're right to be modded "informative". Although the truth is that only a minority of the people tax evade in Greece. People who are not self-employed or business owners, get their taxes withheld from their monthly salary (and that makes about 60% of the greek workforce). They may or may not pay more or get some money back at the end of the year, depending on their total income/spending.

        The are reasons that the view that we shouldn't pay taxes is somewhat more widespread in Greece than in other countries, though. When you have a corrupt government, and a broken down pubic education and healthcare system, you really don't like giving part of the wealth you produce to bankers, weapon dealers and friends of the govenment. Greece was one of the top countries in buying weapons (mainly from the U.S.) before the crisis started, and there were tons of scandals involving greek politicians getting money under the table to close some weapon deals.

        Moreover, the greek tax system resembles the way the Mafia works. Every year, for the last ten years, the government makes you an offer. It'll ask for about 500-1000 euros (depending on how much income you actually declared) and in return they promise to never check your books for that year. The more you're tax evading, the more of a bargain this is. If you're not tax evading though, you'll probably take their offer anyway. Why? Because Greece has a very complicated tax system and if they check your tax declarations really close (which they'll do if you don't take their offer) they'll probably find something to fine you for an you'll end up paying more. Although this has slowed down a bit the last 2-3 years, as people don't have 500 euros to pay to the IRS anyway.

        Oh, and the Olympics did not bankrupt the government because of tax evasion. They bankrupted the government because the construction companies in greece are in bed with the governement (the same ppl own the media and most of the banks). The government paid huge amounts for the olympic works to the construction companies. I still recall the case of a stadium that was to be renovated for a budget of a million euros. We ended up paying 20.

        The money that greece is being given now (as debt), move in two directions: most of them, repay previous loans (so they go to banks), and some of them go directly to the greek banks. So, the german taxpayer loans money to the greek government. The money go straight to the greek and foreign banks and the greek people now have a debt towards the german (and the rest of the EU) people. It's not fair for the greek people and it's not fair for the german people.

        The greek media all support the current status quo and for a good reason. There are no greek media that are economically succesfull. They have never been, not for one year. They survive with loans. The only reason that banks loan money year after year to the greek media although they know that they're not going to get paid back, is that the media in return support the current situation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dinfinity (2300094)

        I don't know how it is over there, but most people I know are proud of it when they evade paying (some) taxes (in one of the richest countries of the world). Even the righteous ones.
        I think it's mainly that the way in which paying income taxes is done is experienced too much like a game. You get to fill in some (digital) form with lots of variables and if you find the right values, you get or save a bundle of money. It equates finding a tax loophole or even just being aware of certain deductibles to some ki

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:08PM (#41799429) Homepage

    If you're in Greece and don't already have your money out of the country, you're an idiot. This isn't about taxes. It's about Greece threatening to leave the euro area, switch to a local currency (bring back the drachma!), and printing money to get out of their financial disaster. People in Greece, as EU residents, have no obligation to participate in this. The EU encourages cross-border banking. So everybody with any significant cash is moving it to German, French, or Swiss banks in case the axe falls.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:19PM (#41799501)

      Yes everybody pull your money out because that will make it better.

      • It's not about what makes things better, it's what is smart for you and your family ... most people have it tough enough without losing half they have saved. Of course that doesn't include the people on the list most probably.

        The Euro is inherently unstable, deposit guarantees should always be backed up by the printing press (or by the full faith and credit of the government who can turn on those presses, regardless of how independent the central bank is). That is what has mostly prevented bank runs during

    • by MtHuurne (602934) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:20PM (#41799511) Homepage

      The difference between a Swiss bank and a bank in another European country is that Swiss banks don't share information about the account balance with the governments of their respective clients. So while having a Swiss bank account doesn't necessarily mean someone is evading taxes, the vast majority of the people evading taxes will use Swiss bank accounts.

      • by Zapotek (1032314) <tasos.laskos@nospAm.gmail.com> on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:33PM (#41799595) Homepage
        Maybe in the good'ol days, but unless my memory fails me, they crumbled a few years ago under international pressure in order to assist in investigating tax evaders.

        PS. The "good'ol days" part was added for comedic effect, I'm actually Greek and have been paying taxes since I got my first semi-real job at 17.
      • by Shavano (2541114)

        The difference between a Swiss bank and a bank in another European country is that Swiss banks don't share information about the account balance with the governments of their respective clients. So while having a Swiss bank account doesn't necessarily mean someone is evading taxes, the vast majority of the people evading taxes will use Swiss bank accounts.

        That's true. They're also useful for stashing stolen money and the proceeds of illegal drug transactions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by wideglide (899100)
          I'm swiss and I just want to inform you that almost anyone tries to hide some money or whatever from the government. For the past 60 years the folks in my surroundings (I live near the german border) have used accounts in germany to hide cash ... others used italian banks or french ones ... If you want to open an account in germany the jolly fellow at the counter will ask you if the bank should sent the yearly statements to the tax office or to you, as you will be doing that ... right ? This is just the pot
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Local currencies are bad how, exactly? It seems that participating in the euro has brought forced austerity measures and foreigners dictating local policy, wages, benefits, etc. When somebody else controls your money, it matters rather little who runs your government.

      I mean, it's not like, to dip into recent history, the ex leaders of Iraq and Libya suddenly became bad guys. They were bad guys for years and we didn't care, other than the occasional one sided ass whipping they got once in a while. Now, w

      • by Cassini2 (956052) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @08:37PM (#41800279)

        For business, local currencies are a nightmare. The exchange rate risk becomes extreme, and eventually everyone just adds on an extra markup to make up for the risk. The result is that every consumer and business in the entire area just pays more money. This was what was happening in the Eurozone.

        Imagine America, with every state having its own fiscal policy. Major transactions would be done in either New York, Texas or California dollars, and anyone that received a California dollar would immediately trade it for a New York dollar. If you went from Alibama to South Carolina, businesses wouldn't know how to exchange your currency. You would need to carry New York dollars for some exchanges, and Texas dollars for other exchanges. In this imaginary world, interstate trade would be a convoluted mess of foreign exchange transactions, and every middlemen would demand a cut.

        That scenario was what was happening in Europe. As such, many countries developed a common monetary system around the Euro. The remaining two internationally easily convertable currencies for Europe are the British Pound and the Euro. For the most part, the British Pound is used for foreign transactions. EU businesses convert everything to Euros, as the Euro is the defacto liquid currency. For example: a Danish business will use Danish Krones and Euros, and a Hugarian business will use Hungarian Forints and Euros. To trade, the transaction will be priced in Euros, because both businesses use Euros.

        The US has a huge commercial advantage with its federal reserve system, large size, and single common currency. Europe is trying to catch up. In the future, China's and India's currencies will be more important, as those countries grow in affluence and formalize their business practices. However, for the moment, it is difficult to explain to a US citizen what an incredible achievement the US economy is.

        • Local currencies are all bad? UK, Poland and Czechia to name a just a few of the EU members that have their own currency, are doing fine.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Shouldn't you be out occupying a Starbucks?

      You are wrong on so many points it's absurd. Greece has had 30 years to get its finances in order, but corruption prevailed. Greece wants to stay in the Euro zone because leaving it would collapse the last of the international trade they do.
      The best thing for Greece in the short term would be bankrupcy because that would clear the debt, but in the long term it wouldn't change anything about its abysmal economy and the endemic tax dodging and would mean leaving the

    • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:51PM (#41799673) Journal

      Actually getting out of the Euro would probably be a smart thing, as they will frankly NEVER be able to pay back the loans and most likely the people will revolt over the measures being imposed on them in return for the loans.

      Whether you agree or disagree with the direction Greece is headed you simply can't force the people to accept what essentially was a crooked deal between the large banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs (Why am I not surprised that GS was involved? I swear they are Wolfram & Hart, and I wouldn't be shocked if their board was demons in Gucci suits) and the former government.

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      I don't understand how going back to the drachma would help them out of their current debt situation. Their debts are enumerated in euros so they have to pay them back in euros. If the switch to drachmas and then inflate the drachmas they'll just have to trade that many more drachmas to buy the euros they'll need to pay off the debts.

      But I can see that it's to one's advantage to have one's wealth counted in euros, which are more stable than any re-established currency is likely to be.

      • by Alomex (148003) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @07:21PM (#41799851) Homepage

        Their debts are enumerated in euros so they have to pay them back in euros.

        Nope, they can simply default on the debt and pay it back in Drachmas, like many other countries have done in the past.

        • by rtb61 (674572)

          However they are Greek and in ego terms, defaulting on debt makes them a minor third rate country. So they are stuck between a rock and a 'stupid' place. Cheating on taxes at every level, no taxes to pay for reasonable social welfare and of course wholly unreasonable major government to private corporate contracts with fat profit margins, the US corporate waged war on the Euro because the Euro was becoming perceived as a threat to the US Fed and was far to stable, ups and downs are needed for real profit.

          • by Alomex (148003)

            defaulting on debt makes them a minor third rate country.

            which sadly, is what they have been all along. they do not belong in Europe until they make major strides towards development.

      • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @07:36PM (#41799945)

        The folks at The Economist can explain that in more detail: http://www.economist.com/node/21555923 [economist.com]

        Although the Greek government is close to running a primary budget surplus (ie, before interest payments) it still needs further official loans to honour obligations due this year, notably redemptions of bonds held by the European Central Bank (ECB), which were excluded from the restructuring in March that slashed the face value of €200 billion of debt held by private bondholders by over half. If the lifeline from the EFSF were cut off by its creditor nations, Greece would be unable to pay those debts. And if the ECB makes it a matter of principle not to lend (or permit the Bank of Greece to lend) to banks against collateral consisting of bonds and guarantees from a government in default, then it in turn would cut Greece off. Greek banks currently rely upon some €130 billion of central-bank funding. Without the ECB money the entire banking system would collapse. If the flow of money was reduced, and the conditions it is lent on tightened, the Greek government might start to issue IOUs to its workers to make up the shortfall. If the flow stopped, leaving the banks no euros to pay out, a new currency would be the only alternative.

        The government would redenominate domestic bank assets and liabilities into drachma and insist that domestic contracts, such as pay and prices, be also set in drachma. Capital controls would be necessary because the drachma would immediately fall against the euro, possibly losing 50% or more of its value in a trice.

        In the short term Greece's economic agony—its economy shrank by 13% from 2007 to 2011 and is expected to contract by almost 5% this year—would intensify. A precipitous exit without preparation would leave the country without notes and coin. The surrounding chaos would paralyse economic activity, causing consumers and businesses to stop spending. Economists at UBS, a Swiss bank, have estimated that the cost of a catastrophic exit might amount to 40-50% of GDP in the first year.

        That figure assumes that Greece would have to leave the EU as well as the euro, and thus lose access to the single market. On strict legal grounds that may be the case, in part because exit requires capital controls, and those controls are illegal under EU treaties. In practice European policymakers are making it clear they would do their utmost to keep Greece in the EU. Assuming such helpfulness, Mark Cliffe, an economist at ING, a Dutch bank, reckons that the effect would be less. He puts the first-year extra loss of output at 7.5%.

      • by AK Marc (707885)

        Their debts are enumerated in euros so they have to pay them back in euros.

        They simply state "All debts will be paid back with Drachma. If you don't like that, let us know, and we'll cancel our debt with you." People would sign up to take the drachma, if the alternative was nothing. One or two would hold out, and Greece would default on those, and nobody would care, because the people who refused to take the offered drachma would be blamed.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    while the government is in possesion of a list of people those people in turn are in possesion of the government.

  • Tax records (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:11PM (#41799447)

    Tax records are public documents in Finland. In fact, they are published as an annual bestseller (two pieces of information are listed: the reported annual income and the total tax).

    The logic is the same as with court records. The citizens need to be able to trust that the tax system treats everybody fairly.

  • the real scandal (Score:4, Informative)

    by etash (1907284) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:12PM (#41799455)
    That's not the real scandal, or should I say is part of it. The real scandal is that the list has been in the government's hands for a couple of years and it has done nothing about it ( it's the same list leaked by a swiss man, and bought and used by the german, US and other governments to collect taxes ). Ex-ministers are saying that a) either they couldn't use the list because the data was not acquired legally or b) we gave the list to the greek IRS but they didn't do anything. There is even an ex-minister ( current leader of pasok ) who admitted he took the usb stick with the list to his home after he resigned from his position.
    • I'm not sure why it's news that someone was arrested for violating the law. Just because they're a journalist doesn't mean they can violate privacy laws on a whim.

      I'm sure not everyone on the list is guilty of evading taxes, yet the journalist painted everyone with the same brush.

      • by memnock (466995)

        I think by mentioning that the list was already in the Greek govt's hands for a couple of years means this guy was acting as a kind of whistleblower, or possibly working with a whistleblower. IF that was the point, then acting out of a moral obligation to reveal evaders when the govt can't support itself makes this arrest appear immoral, perhaps somewhat despicable.

        Just conjecture on my part. Honestly, I don't know why this particular "journalist arrested" story made it to /. Maybe though it's the fault of

    • by Raenex (947668) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:27PM (#41799563)

      That's not the real scandal, or should I say is part of it. The real scandal is that the list has been in the government's hands for a couple of years and it has done nothing about it

      In other words, the second and third sentences in the summary:

      "While more and more austerity measures are being taken against the people of Greece, there is still no investigation of tax evasion for the people on this list by the government. The list has been in the possession of the Greek government since 2010."

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by udachny (2454394)

        I don't know if anybody on /. understands the principle of austerity, but it seems that most of the planet doesn't understand it.

        Austerity is reduction of spending by government, reduction of size of government. The checks that governments sends are supposed to be reduced or completely cut, stopped. The government cannot afford payments, the people cannot afford the government.

        That's what austerity is or should be.

        Instead the politicians have convinced huge number of people that austerity is supposed to b

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          The theft was the spending. If fewer complaints were made about taxes and more about spending, we'd be better off.
    • Same Bullshit in the US too ...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Birkenfeld [wikipedia.org]

      In October 2001, Birkenfeld began working at UBS in Geneva, Switzerland, handling private banking, primarily for clients located in the United States. In 2005, he learned that UBS's secret dealings with American customers violated an agreement the bank had reached with the IRS.

      He resigned from UBS in October 2005 and provided written whistleblower complaints to Peter Kurer, Head Counsel for UBS, and other UBS senior executives regard

  • by skegg (666571) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @06:27PM (#41799567)

    Hey many billions -- nay, TRILLIONS -- of dollars have wealthy individuals from around the globe hidden in Swiss bank accounts?

    Under any other circumstances, nations would ban trade with Switzerland unless it shared bank account data with their local tax office. Alas, it's the same fat cats that run our countries who shield their wealth in Switzerland.

    It was eye opening when that disgruntled IT fellow burned a copy of bank account data onto a couple of DVD's and then embarked on a global tour of selling to each country a list of their citizens who had money stashed in Switzerland.

    Is he still alive?

    • In Switzerland, banks accounts hold the money of immoral criminals.

      In the US, immoral criminals run the banks.

    • So in your ideal world, we would force Switzerland to abandon its privacy laws under penalty of economic ruin?

      Tell me, are you simultaneously of the opinion that banning financial trades from the likes of wikileaks is bad? Just curious.

      • by skegg (666571)

        Slow down there, cowboy. You make it sound like I want to send in the cavalry.

        I wouldn't force Switzerland to abandon its "privacy" laws.
        (I think the inverted commas are warranted, don't you? I mean, what are they really protecting?)

        I would simply like to see local jurisdictions refuse to trade with Switzerland unless they provided reciprocal financial information on their citizens. (Many countries have already requested such information -- even writing very stern letters! -- and have received nothing in re

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 28, 2012 @07:02PM (#41799717)

      Hey many billions -- nay, TRILLIONS -- of dollars have wealthy individuals from around the globe hidden in Swiss bank accounts?

      Since you ask, around 21-32 trillion: as much as the US and Japanese economies combined.
      http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/The_Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_Presser_120722.pdf
      That includes all off shore accounts, not just Swiss.

  • Taxing your way out of an economic crisis is only feasible in the [very] short term.

    Poor economic choices on the part of the Greek gov't are to blame here...but they're too busy screwing over their people to accept responsibility and make progress toward actual corrections.
    • by brit74 (831798)
      > Taxing your way out of an economic crisis is only feasible in the [very] short term.

      First, I don't know why this is relevant to the tax evasion issue. Although, I know a lot of right-wingers can get pretty anti-tax.

      Second, would you agree that governments need to have *some* form of taxation? Based on your statement, I assume the only ideologically-consistent position you can take is a total anti-tax position.
      • by Onuma (947856)
        My statement was in relevance to the last sentence of the article summary. The damage has already been done by the Greek government. Even if they did now seek to prosecute the tax evaders, they would still be in a financial mess; the white-collar criminals would merely be the next scapegoat in the line. In a nutshell, I'm pointing the finger at the Greek gov't for mismanaging the money that they did take in, rather than being responsible and accountable with the funds of their people.

        Revenue of some f
    • Re:Economic sense. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @07:17PM (#41799819)
      You need to distinguish between an economic crisis and a government budget crisis. Taxing can get you out of a government budget crisis. Lowering taxes when you don't have enough taxes to cover your current spending will just as surely produce one.
      • by Onuma (947856)
        "Government budget crisis"? When governments excessively spend money they don't have, it is inevitably creating an "economic crisis" down the line. Proper budgeting means you don't spend more money than the sum of your tax revenue. If you DO happen to need that extra coverage, you effectively "IOU" the people and spend less during the next fiscal period to compensate. The numbers may be massive, the figures vast and more complex than your average checkbook, but math is still math.
  • > The list has been in the possession of the Greek government since 2010

    Sounds to me more like the people of Greece should be arresting the Greek government.
  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Sunday October 28, 2012 @07:08PM (#41799749)
    This is a classic case of government panicking when they lose control of information and thus power. I find when a government spends too much time controlling information they tend to forget what they are actually supposed to be doing. I love how this compares to a functioning government like Norway where you can access people's tax records online. There are a few odd rules though; there is a time window and I believe that people know who has accessed their records. Thus the open information includes knowing which of your neighbours are nosy. But the best part is the first year they went online the public found famous rich people claiming $150,000 in income resulting in investigations.
  • The Pirate Party of Greece has already issued a statement positioning itself on this matter: http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=el&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pirateparty.gr%2F2012%2F10%2Fvaxevanis-lista%2F [google.com]

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