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World

Greek Government Pledges To Crack Down On Tax Evasion

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Greek government has proposed a series of financial reforms that it says will help the economically troubled country get out of debt. One reform is cracking down on tax evasion, something that is embedded in Greek culture. The government regularly collects far less than projected, but as Joanna Kakissis explains from Athens, this government says it will succeed where others have failed by going after rich tax evaders.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The leftist Syriza party swept into power last month by convincing Greeks that previous governments helped the rich evade taxes while the poor and middle class had to pay. In a speech to parliament, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis says this is why Greeks do not back reforms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "Developers, cartels, banks and media conglomerates are left untouched," he says, "at a time when workers and small-business owners are losing everything."

Now the government says it will go after big-fish tax evaders to raise money for social relief programs. But Diomidis Spinellis, a computer scientist who oversaw tax collection in a previous administration, explains that many small-owned family businesses also evade taxes.

DIOMIDIS SPINELLIS: Unfortunately, the exhibition is happening across the board, and many small fish need to be caught. Tax compliance must be vastly improved across the board.

KAKISSIS: To get results, he says, the government must also simplify an overly complex tax code and also press the judicial system to prosecute tax evasion cases. It must also deal with corruption within the tax collection system. The union of tax collectors sued Spinellis just for talking about it. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.