A new book by Greek-American author James Angelos contends that widespread fraud and tax evasion led to the devastation of the economy of Greece. Among the schemes unveiled by Angelos is an island near the Greek shore where nearly 680 residents have pretended to be blind in order to receive government benefits. Other cases of benefits fraud include 8,500 pensioners who fraudulently claimed to be over 100 years old, as well as professionals who have made false statements about their income to Greek tax authorities. Other cases include super-rich Greeks who camouflaged their swimming pools in order to cheat the Greek government out of revenue.
The result has been a bank holiday which prevented Greeks from accessing their savings, and a national discussion over whether or not to reject a proffered bailout by the European Union. Also affected were elderly Greeks whose pensions have been cut drastically.
Angelos - formerly of the Wall Street Journal - found that on the island of Zakynthos, some two per cent of the islands were supposedly blind. Of the 680 registered blind residents, who were receiving benefits, 61 of them were able to drive cars. Ultimately, it was determined that 498 of the 680 supposedly blind were not blind or impaired. Legally blind persons in Greece were entitled to €724 paid in government benefits once every two months, not including a subsidy for utilities. It was an ophthalmologist and a government official who conspired in the scheme, costing the government €9 million.
Former deputy health minister Markos Bolaris told Angelos that the rate of fraud was very big. Some 36,000 Greeks had been claiming benefits, it was found, fraudulently. Among the issues found by the government was that 8,500 pensioners had supposedly surpassed the age of 100. Ultimately, authorities found that 40,000 pension claims were fraudulent.
According to Angelos’ book, "The Full Catastrophe: Travels among the New Greek Ruins,"
tax evasion might be costing the country as much as €20billion a year in lost revenue. Benefit fraud would add to the tally of losses for the Greek government. According to Angelos, when he suggested that tax cheats and fraudsters should be punished, a Greek official said “If you start putting people in jail, maybe you'll have to put half of Greece in jail.”
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