Greece’s Finance Ministry released a list of more than 4,000 tax evaders to the public on Sunday, as part of a name-and-shame policy that the ministry hopes will encourage more people to pay their taxes.
Among those who were publicly humiliated included numerous celebrities and high-profile businessmen who cumulatively, as the ministry claims, owe the state more than $19 billion in unpaid taxes.
The list also revealed that the worst tax offender, a 58-year-old accountant currently serving a prison term of more than 100 years for tax fraud, had a tax debt of just over 950 million euros ($1.24 billion); while another 15 individuals had debts of over 100 million euros ($130 million) each.
Although ministry officials have admitted the difficulty in recovering many of the outstanding debts, with many of the individuals already in jail or facing bankruptcy, the ministry hopes that the list would convince the public of its commitment to dealing with tax dodgers who in the past have gone to extraordinary lengths to hide their earnings.
"The truth is that these lists contain debtors who in some cases have owed the money for a long period of time, so after a certain point one does not expect to be able to collect the debts," said finance ministry official Haris Theocharis in an interview with AP.
"But I'm sure that there are possibilities ... In some cases (publication) will push debtors to settle their debts, and tax offices to redouble their efforts," added Theocharis.
The long anticipated list was actually compiled in November last year but had to be delayed from publication due to clearance needed from the Hellenic Data Protection authority in order to make the information public. The list does not include names of those who had already made arrangements to settle their tax arrears, while months of warnings were given to listed individuals that their names would be made public.
Greece though still faces about 60 billion euros ($77.52 billion) in unpaid taxes, with just 8 billion euros ($10.41 billion) of that amount expected to be quickly recovered, said an EU report published last year.