Tax fraud is a “scourge” in Greece, a spokesman for the EU’s economics commissioner said Tuesday after a Facebook backlash over controversial comments by IMF head Christine Lagarde.
Monetary affairs spokesman Amadeu Altafaj told a regular European Commission press conference that “the fight against tax fraud is a central element” in the 237-billion-euro bailout deal agreed by eurozone, IMF and private-sector creditors in March.
He said the aid program, hated by many Greeks after two years already of austerity, was “of use to the Greek people in tackling the scourge of tax fraud which is a core problem in the management of public finances.”
In an uncompromising interview published by The Guardian newspaper on Friday, Lagarde said she had little sympathy with the Greek people -- preferring to concern herself with the plight of starving children in Africa’s Sahel region.
“I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time,” she said. “All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax.”
She said the Greeks could help themselves “by all paying their tax,” remarks that incensed many Greeks and led to 10,000 messages, many obscene, being posted on Lagarde’s Facebook page.
Asked by reporters if the European Commission shared Lagarde’s apparent view that Greeks are tax-dodgers, Altafaj said “no”.
He stressed that EU officials were in Greece working on tax evasion and that the Greek authorities were aware of a problem.
Altafaj did not give a date for the next inspection visit by EU-IMF lenders to Greece, following a June 17 repeat general election.