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Sun, sand, and suspicious … tourists. If a spot of sleuthing is all that’s missing from your all-inclusive holiday package, the Greek tax authorities are about to go all George Smiley on you. They’re out to clamp down on the black economy, and recruiting undercover inspectors from right under the cover of your beach parasol is their preferred method.
There’s a reason why the Greeks don’t finish their buildings. It’s not a matter of builders taking an extra long siesta. It’s just an unfinished building escapes a raft of taxes and, if you’re Greek, that’s a big incentive to leave your villa a storey short of a penthouse.
That most visible manifestation of the black economy, and the culture of tax evasion, is estimated to cost the Greek exchequer sixteen billion euro annually. Under the counter dealing and shady schemes to get out of paying taxes are headline news from Kalamata to Thessaloniki.
It’s a story we’ve touched on before, and it’s not new to the Greeks. There have been less than successful schemes to have shop keepers shop their fellow shop keepers, with prizes if tip-offs led to taxes. Not surprisingly, neighbours proved less than willing to inform on their neighbours, either out of loyalty or out of fear of reprisals for cooperating with an unpopular government, or maybe just for a biblical sense of not casting the first stone.
Official inspections have proved equally ineffectual for the Greek authorities. The inspectors are usually spotted as soon as they come over the horizon. As soon as the taxman strolls into town, everyone gets back to work on the rafters and the roof tiles, and, well, it’s just another year before that house is going to be finished. Similarly, down at the taverna, the sober suited inspector sticks out a mile. For starters, he’s sober, and suited. Bemused drinkers are befuddled, as the suddenly compliant owner stuffs a sheaf of receipts into their puzzled hands.
However the authorities have now come up with a cunning plan to catch the culprits red handed. Disguised inspectors will mingle with tourists, and even be allowed to order a drink or two. As plans go, it’s sort of brilliant, but only sort of.
Unofficially dubbed ‘Mission Summer Shorts’, inspectors seeking black economy rogues in tourist hot spots, are to dress up as tourists to catch out nefarious vendors and tax-tardy traders. However, since most tourists are, by definition, foreign, that means assuming the appearance of a foreigner.
It’s bound to be difficult for a sun-kissed, mahogany-skinned Greek to impersonate pale, pink and peeling northern Europeans, which may be why another tactic is suggested by Athens.
Yes … as we Brits are already fully qualified in the pale, pink and peeling criteria, there’s a proposal for genuine tourists to spy from the sun lounger, and peep on the peeps from the poolside. “Boró na ého tin apódixi parakaló?” as they say, which we’re unreliably informed, might approximate to “Please may I have a receipt for that?”
Could this be the break you’ve been looking for into the shady world of espionage?