Satellite photos catch Greek tax-evaders

As the nation of Greece teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, its tax authorities are taking aim at Greece's notorious tax-evading rich elite. Using satellite photos, the tax authority examined the claim of the residents of Athens's wealthy suburbs and discovered that, rather than the 324 swimming pools claimed by the locals, there were 16,974 of them.

The cheating is often quite bold. When tax authorities recently surveyed the returns of 150 doctors with offices in the trendy Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki, where Prada and Chanel stores can be found, more than half had claimed an income of less than $40,000. Thirty-four of them claimed less than $13,300, a figure that exempted them from paying any taxes at all.

Such incomes defy belief, said Ilias Plaskovitis, the general secretary of the Finance Ministry, who has been in charge of revamping the country's tax laws. "You need more than that to pay your rent in that neighborhood," he said.

He said there were only a few thousand citizens in this country of 11 million who last year declared an income of more than $132,000. Yet signs of wealth abound.

"There are many people with a house, with a cottage in the country, with two cars and maybe a small boat who claim they are earning 12,000 euros a year," Mr. Plaskovitis said, which is about $15,900. "You cannot heat this house or buy the gas for the car with that kind of income."

Greek Wealth Is Everywhere but Tax Forms (via Memex 1.1)

(Image: Google Earth/Memex 1.1)


    1. Yes, the USA is different. US taxpayer compliance is 4 times greater than Greeks compliance, according to the same source that authored this article.

  1. Time to close in and close in HARD! So essentially as an EU taxpayer I am financing the swimming pool of some fatcat Greek doctor… f**k that!

    1. What are you financing? your financing bullshit haven’t you realized its in the favor of the other eu countries for this financial crisis in greece? Germany especially is gonna make a shitload of money with its exports from the downing of the eu market.

    2. Mate your taxes are not financing a Greek fat cat doctor. Actually they are financing the system that brought us here and you are digging your own hole since what happened here will happen to you sooner rather than later.

      The stereotype of the Greek thief that does not work and lives of Euro handouts is sickening. Even before the crisis Greeks worked more for less. Do you know what a doctor’s wage in a public hospital was? 900 euros. I doubt that you could get a villa with a pool with that.

      Corruption and waste are our plague. Yet no one seems to notice that the biggest corruptors of them all are German companies. Agreed that our politicians are bank robbers in ties but i don’t see why corporations like Siemens that broke any and every law by means of bribery get away with it.

      Unfortunately our stupid politicians instead of defaulting and be done with it once and for all continue to dig us further in a vicious cycle.

  2. Tax evasion, nepotism, corruption and a veritable hydrocephalus of bureaucracy are all too common in Euroland. Greece is just the tip of the iceberg…



  3. This actually may be the sign of a sea change, as it was considered fair game to cheat on your taxes in Mediterranean countries, now the Euro zone has taken away their normal method of balancing the books by letting the Drachma/Lire/Peseta ride. Now it’s becoming more and more evident how the old “the rules don’t apply to me” way of thinking simply won’t work any more.

    In the end, this may be a positive effect of the Euro, by forcing more honesty and breaking the spiral of corruption.

  4. Once again, a great chance to rebuild the way things are done here in Greece seems to go wasted. It’s simply too little, too late. The previous government raided the public sector funds while the new one is desperately trying to find money from somewhere. The steps being taken are simply moving the burden on the shoulders of those who can’t hide any income (salary men and pensioners) and many of those fat cats roam free. There’s corruption in every level of dealing with the public sector, a public sector that was always used to hire voters of the ruling party, even when they had no qualifications.

    Although overstaffed and bleeding money on all sides, there are many many places that desperately need more people to do some work but can’t get any because some party officials already hired hundreds of non-existent, non-going to work people as party favors (in one such case, the accounting office had no idea who some people were in the payment log until they stopped paying them and they showed up to see why).

    There’s a law that effectively clears a minister of any indemning actions they did in their time, after 5 years. So, if a party can stall it enough, no one goes to jail or even to court.

    I wish Greece would default right now so we won’t need to default next year with 120 bil. debt more on top of what we have now.

  5. In the short term, a tax grab based on perceived wealth will help the Greek government pay the bills.

    However in the long term, it won’t work. The Greek people are totally averse to direct taxation and quite adept at avoiding it.

    A long term solution is for Greece to move to a method of revenue raising that cannot be avoided (except by spending no money at all).

    The Automated Payment Transaction Tax (google it) solves their collection problems, because they only have to collect from regulated financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, fund managers, etc) not from millions of individuals and businesses.

    It is also the fairest tax because the super rich and multi-national corporations cannot avoid it (even criminals and cash-in-hand businesses cannot avoid it because eventualy their cash will be spent in a legitimate business that will just put it in the bank, where it is taxable again).

    All current systems of tax load the burden unfairly on the poor who cannot afford off-shore tax havens and clever accountants and financial advisers.

    But possibly the biggest advantage is that because it is automated, the Greek government can get rid of all their tax collectors and inspectors (nobody likes tax collectors) which will save a huge payroll bill (OK there will still be some to audit the banks, but not many).

    Finally, an advantage that will perhaps appeal to Cory, the massive gain in personal privacy – an automated transaction tax does away with the need for the government to know anything about an individual’s financial affairs.

  6. As a real estate agent in London said in an interview: “We used to get some 3 or 4 Greek customers per month that wanted to invest in buying a flat in Regent Park. After the default scare we get 15 per week. And they say that money is not an issue, just get me a flat”.

    When ministers have openly admitted offshore companies to unload their loot, paying one’s taxes seems like a sucker move. Public advertising was awarded to newspapers of party affiliates with 500 prints instead of the ones running at many thousands. There’s a back door to every law, for instance, those pools might fall into a category of “water fountain” or even “aquarium” when inspected by officials (who would of course get paid to turn a blind eye).

    Let’s say you have a building that you want to transform illegally (add a new room or smth) and the plans you have applied to the agency that oversees buildings need to disappear so no one can see the change. The person in charge of the archives can, if bribed, make them disappear. And if in the future you need those plans for any other dealing, you bribe that same person and they reappear. There’s things like that all over the public sector and they are particularly hard rooted.

    The problem starts at the top. When people see politicians and church leaders loot the public funds, it’s clearly an incentive not to pay taxes.

  7. Actually I think many authorities around the world use this sort of “investigation”.

    We once got sent a bill from the Auckland City Council warning us that we had an unregistered pool which came as quite a surprise to us as we have a small property in the inner city.

    Turns out our “pool” was my blue tarpaulin-covered trailer in the driveway, which they had picked up from satellite images. Half a dozen phone calls later they admitted they were wrong…

  8. Shifting the burden to the wealthy families will reduce the suppy of weathy families as reinvest their profit in whatever the code allows for shelter.

    I welcome the supply of Greek doctors to my country. Sorry Greece.

    Also, calling them cheats when apparently the norm in Greece is to cheat, whether through misreporting income or shirking work in your public sector job.

  9. @ILoveGadgets

    Lets create incentives for individuals to avoid using the domestic banking system! This can’t possibly have any repercussions for our economy! Whoo!

  10. It’s entirely possible for 34 doctors to claim their profit is less than their annual rental. Businesses pays tax on their net profit, not their gross income. In fact, some businesses have been know to make losses and pay no tax. Or are doctor’s taxes in Greece calculated differently?

  11. The elephant in the room (cuckoo in the nest?): the Greek state (which has bankrupted itself through mismanagement and a refusal to tell the electorate “No, we can’t afford that”) /still/ wants more of other peoples’ hard-earned money.

    It’s like having to enable an addict. One who can change the law to make it say you legally have to do so.

    wv: longtime threats

  12. What we see here is the beginning of the end for the Euro.
    This year it’s Greece.
    In the meantime, Portugal ans Spain are frantically trying to maintain the impression that they have no problem. Even if Spain has an unemployment rate of 20% at the moment.
    That bubble will burst next year.
    Which will also be the year in which it will become painfully clear that Greece will be unable to repay its debts.

  13. “many people with a house, with a cottage in the country, with two cars and maybe a small boat” were evading taxation.

    Boy howdy, that’s what I call a member of the fat cat elite, you betcha.

    Greece is going to have to apply confiscatory taxation way down into the middle class if it wants to solve its problem without kicking any of the free riders off the government payroll.

    As will we.

  14. A cloud of smoke is rising from downtown Athens.

    Rioters set a bank on fire. I heard 3 employees are dead.

    By any standard the greek economy is healthy and growing steadily and has been for the past 20 years if not more.

    International media attention made it impossible for our government to borrow money, and everyone has an opinion about the greek “fat cats”. But no-one seems to check the numbers.

    So thanks for all the catchy headlines and the new austerity measures, now stop.

  15. I was with a Greek friend in a moderately fancy Greek restaurant in Manhattan a few years ago, and the waiter pointed out that they don’t take credit cards. (This was before we ordered. I guess he was just making sure.) I asked my friend why they wouldn’t take credit cards, and he said “Taxes. Every Greek evades taxes; it is his duty.” At the time I had no idea that he was not exaggerating.

  16. You know. . . Greece has a very strong communist movement, I don’t think the rich realize that paying their taxes to cover social programs is probably wiser than paying for a fancy security system. The best security system in the world isn’t going to stop an angry hungry mob from ransacking your house; when you’ve got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose.

    1. “ATHENS – Three people died when a bank went up in flames Wednesday as tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets to protest harsh spending cuts aimed at saving the country from bankruptcy. ”

      But these protesters are FOR government spending, so it’s understandable rage.

      Now if some group AGAINST government spending had done this, it would of course be the next step towards fascism. Godwinisation would be instantaneous.

      1. Like tax evasion, bank bombing is a national pastime in Greece, and is a pretty common way for some Greeks to express their dislike of a whole host of possible things that might have nothing to do with banks or financial matters at all. It isn’t really big news domestically.

        1. You may well be right.

          I just think it’s important to be aware that this is not a case of workers/anarchists rebelling against bosses/dictators.

          It’s people demanding that their government checks keep coming.

  17. This is exactly what one of my cartography classmates is doing. His summer job is to work for Nova Scotia’s property evaluation department and they use satellite imagery to evaluate properties when the owner isn’t willing to let evaluators on their property. Specifically, they use Pictometry, which can be seen as ‘bird’s eye view’ on Bing maps.

    And the wealthy consistently under report what is on their property, claiming they are putting in a stone walk way when the imagery reveals it is road and a wharf.

  18. Hilarious editorial slant: Using satellites to catch speeding cars? Orwellian horror. Using satellites to catch tax evaders? Celebration.

    1. Using a hammer to drive a bolt into a nut? Horror.
      Using a hammer to drive a nail into wood? Celebration.

      A little oversimplified, but the point stands: it’s about using the right tool for the job.

      1. Consider the general form, though- “The government should be able to spy on your backyard (from space)to see if you are violating any laws.”

        Again, on a website that frequently decries the use of video cameras for police surveillance, odd.

        1. The “rich” by definition are outlaws. Any action taken against them is permissible.

          Didn’t you get the memo?

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