December 29, 2011

Greek Tax Officials Strike

Austerity protests, allegations of interference mark tax walkout

Tax officials in Greece further complicated the country's efforts to cope with its austerity measures in the midst of the debt crisis as they walked off the job on Thursday, shutting down tax offices for the last two working days of the year.

In an NPR report, the 48-hour strike over salary cuts and higher taxes caused additional problems for residents. Because of the walkout many Greeks on Wednesday had rushed to take care of last-minute tax matters, with a substantial number opting to surrender their car license plates rather than pay higher taxes to keep the vehicles on the road.

Tax evasion has been a major problem in Greece, despite efforts to root it out. Matters do not seem to have been helped by the austerity measures' effects on tax officials themselves. Tax officers union head Charalambos Nikolakopoulos commented about the walkout in the report, "As a result of the austerity measures putting some tax officers on reduced pay, we have 5,500 fewer tax office jobs."

The strike came a day after two prosecutors who headed a judicial task force that was charged with combating tax evasion abruptly resigned. Grigoris Peponis and Spiros Mouzakitis, the prosecutors, said that the government was "attempting to replace and get rid of" them by means of a new draft law that would appoint a high court prosecutor in their stead. The finance and justice ministries said the draft plan was meant to improve the task force's functioning. Peponis and Mouzakitis implied that the government was instead interfering in their work.

After the two resigned, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos met with top judicial officials on Thursday, and the country's main Supreme Court prosecutor ordered that the officials' allegations of interference, as well as their resignations, be investigated.

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