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As one wag put it, the idea of using tourists to spy on tax cheats at restaurants and the like is a crazy Greek idea that might work. Might.

Greece Proposes Using Tourist Tax Spies

The New York Times – Liz Alderman

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has tried to reassure creditors that Greece will not default. But in a sign of how desperately Greece needs money, his government plans on Monday to present a raft of measures to European finance ministers in Brussels in hopes of unlocking aid quickly.

That includes a proposal to enlist “casual” tax spies — tourists, students, housekeepers and other nonprofessional inspectors — “to pose, after some basic training, as customers, on behalf of the tax authorities, while wired for sound and video,” according to a letter accompanying the proposals that the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, sent to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, last week.

With tax arrears in Greece at €76 billion, the proposal is intended to scare tax dodgers and engender “a new tax compliance culture,” the letter said …

Jens Bastian, a financial consultant based in Athens and a former member of the European Commission’s task force on Greece, said such measures underscored the depth of the country’s financial problems.

“The situation is dire, and this government is finding out in real time how difficult it is to meet its multiple obligations,” he said. “It tells you something about the sheer level of desperation they face to identify any funding resources wherever they can pinch pennies.” …

But with money running out, Mr. Tsipras is confronting a cold truth: After five years of being supported by international bailouts, Greece has still not made enough progress in restructuring the economy and improving tax collection to stand on its own, making it hard to press anti-austerity claims with creditors.

Greece Wants Tourists To Hunt Tax Cheats

Quartz – Kabir Chabbir

The Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, says that the “culture of tax avoidance runs deep within Greek society,” (pdf) and has expanded on a previous proposal to better collect taxes:

To this effect we propose the following: That large numbers of non-professional inspectors are hired on a strictly short-term, casual basis (no longer than two months, and without any prospect of being rehired) to pose, after some basic training, as customers, on behalf of the tax authorities, while ‘wired’ for sound and video.

We envisage that the recruits will come from all walks of life (e.g. students, housekeepers, even tourists in popular areas ripe with tax evasion) who will be paid hourly and who will be hard to detect by offending tax dodgers. The very ‘news’ that thousands of casual ‘onlookers’ are everywhere, bearing audio and video recording equipment on behalf of the tax authorities, has the capacity to shift attitudes very quickly.

Varoufakis even wants money from the rest of the euro zone to carry out its Stasi-esque policies. As one unnamed euro zone official told the Financial Times:

It’s quite hilarious, if it were not so tragic, that this is what a government in an industrialized country comes up with.

Spying—and using foreigners to do it—should go down well with voters in a country suffering from record unemployment that has lost a quarter of its economy. They elected Varoufakis’s party in the first place to end this kind of humiliation.

Undercover Tourist Tax Spies in Greece

Forbes – Robert Wood

The Greek economy may be failing, waiting for a European bailout. But you have to admire the Greeks’ audacity for proposing tourists as tax inspectors! Cheating on taxes is common in Greece, and so are tourists. It may make for a crazy marriage of convenience.

The Trojan Horse story warns to be wary of Greeks bearing gifts. But Greeks could be wary of everyone if the country rolls out its proposed tax militia.

The Greek government wants to empower tourists, students, and housekeepers as inspectors to collect taxes. They would be wired with audio and video equipment too, according to a letter to eurozone authorities.

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, said they would be short-term hourly workers. No one would ever know when they were being observed.

The fact that these casual undercover tax agents would have audio and video equipment would be the icing on the baklava

But the reaction from eurozone officials and fromthe public is generally more amused than impressed. The army of amateur tax sleuths to rat out merchants and consumers in everyday life may sound strange. But the IRS too has already tried private tax collectors.

Source: The National Herald
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