ATHENS – As it considers opportunities to bring in more revenue, Greece is considering a plan that would allow people convicted of financial crimes to reduce or avoid prison sentences by paying fines.
The controversial plan would allow the government to avoid the expense of keeping non-violent offenders in prison while bringing more revenue into the national budget.
The proposal would include people convicted of tax evasion, money laundering, submitting declarations with inaccurate sources of wealth, breach of faith or public embezzlement.
If the suspect returns all the illegally-obtained money before facing a magistrate, they would get a three-year prison sentence instead of a life term.
If the money is returned before the case goes to trial, a life term would become a seven-year jail sentence; if returned prior to an appeal, a 10-year jail sentence.
Prosecutors can also offer suspects charged with misdemeanours or crimes carrying a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail the option to pay to stay out of jail.
The proposed measure excludes ministers, lawmakers, mayors and regional governors.
Critics said the proposal sends a poor message, particularly in government corruption and tax evasion cases.
“Going in the opposite direction, where heavy crimes will be punished by lenient penalties, will give the wrong signal in the society in times of a crisis. It can lead to an increase in crime activities and will become a vicious cycle phenomena with people rotating in and out of prison,” said Ioannis Michaletos, an analyst at the Institute for Security and Defence Analysis in Athens.
With more than a million cases pending and backlogs up to 10 years in the courts, officials said something had to be done to reduce the caseload.
“The main rationale is the dire straits the Greek correctional facility system is in,” Michaletos told Southeast Euoropen Times.
The key remaining question is whether the government examines if the offenders can or will really pay the whole amount or part of it, said Effi Lambropoulou, a professor of criminology at Panteion University in Athens.
Lambropoulou said critics make too much of reducing life sentences because in many cases prisoner are released after serving 12 years.
“Other European countries do not impose long sentences. The more the country improves its normative and administrative instruments to prevent corruption and promote transparency, the lower its score in the Corruption Perceptions Index,” Lambropoulou told SETimes.
Other aspects of the proposed measure allow judicial authorities to seize and liquidate assets of suspects charged with stealing money from the government.
(Used by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)