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Jump in the number of offshore companies in the Greek 'tax havens'

23 April 2012 / 14:04:36  GRReporter
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In less than eight years, the number of offshore companies in Greece has jumped several times, according to the Ministry of Finance; but more interesting is the fact that the more their number increased until 2009, the more their payments to the state decreased. A good illustration of this is the tax office in Kranidi, states an article in the Greek Kathimerini newspaper.
The small town with 5 thousand residents is located on the Peloponnese peninsula and is "the capital of offshore companies" in Greece. By 2003, there were 187 registered offshore companies, the number of which decreased after the imposition of a 3% tax the same year. These are real estate companies with headquarters in countries, some of which have administrative cooperation agreements with Greece, and others – which do not. The majority of them belong to large shipping and construction consortia. In most cases, the companies were headquartered in the Republic of Cyprus, which maintained this tax system until 2004.

A representative from the Ministry of Finance, who wished to stay anonymous, explained, "In most cases, the real owners of the companies hired the property for their personal needs." Following the imposition of the 3% tax on owners of offshore companies, a wave of transfers began in 2003 and many of the companies ceased to operate. "Obviously, they sold the companies to themselves," said the same source. According to other representatives of the Ministry, most of the offshore companies, including those from Kranidi, have never paid the 3% tax.

In many cases, the residents who were ordinary taxpayers with an annual income of between 10 and 15 thousand euro appeared to be the managers of 10-12 companies trading with properties worth millions of euro. The imposition of the 3% tax made 40% of the companies or about 83 of them cease their operation.

In 2010, the Greek state imposed a tax rate of 15%. The real purpose was not to raise revenue but to force property owners to "come to light". All those who presented their names and data could continue to pay the 3% tax. "Anonymous" owners are obliged to pay 15%.

Strange as it may seem, a senior official from the financial institution has found out that in one of the largest tax departments in Attica, where 15,500 of the total 18,310 foreign companies in the country are registered, 50-60 companies prefer to pay the higher tax. "Just think how "black" the money is," he told the newspaper.

At the same time, the Peloponnese division of the services prosecuting economic crime has sent the names of companies that have "disappeared" since 2004 to all tax offices in the country to establish whether they paid the 3% tax. The addresses of the companies are law firms, notary offices and offices of construction companies. "However, tax departments sending us data on sold properties are exceptions. Generally, we have no information," said the head of a large tax office in the region of Attica.

In many cases, companies’ holders provide data on imported currency, but it is not sufficient to cover the value of the property. Therefore, a tax must be paid for the difference. In other cases a "pool" is formed between the seller, buyer and broker. This is evident from the opening of their bank accounts, especially after 2010.

Thus, a Greek and a Swiss company transferred along an amount of 6.7 million euro to a real estate company to buy a very expensive property. The purchase contract contained the amount of 2.5 million euro, whereas the actual price was 4.75 million. In this case, there is a difference of two million euro and the buyer and seller must explain this.

Following the imposition of the 3% tax, the revenue of the tax office in Kranidi was decreasing by 2009 and the number of offshore companies was increasing. In 2003, 42 thousand euro were collected from taxes, in 2004 – 42 thousand, in 2005 – 36 thousand, in 2006 – 36 thousand, in 2007 – 39 thousand, in 2008 – 30 thousand and in 2009 – 50 thousand euro. In 2010, and not including the revenue that other tax departments had to send in the request of the service prosecuting economic crimes, the revenue jumped to 6 million euro. The sharp increase was not due only to the fivefold tax but especially to the fear of real company holders that they would have to pay much higher amounts for past years. "And that's not all. Some of them had to explain how they got the money with which they bought the property. They had to respond to this obligation even after paying the tax."

For many company holders, this issue is resolved, because they are taxpayers - residents of other countries. But even they prefer to pay to avoid inspection, albeit temporarily. The most recent example is of two residents of Ukraine, who paid a tax to the amount of 23 thousand euro for their property. Greek tax services are now seeking the origin of their money.

Tags: EconomyOffshore companiesKranidiTaxesRevenue drop
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