Greek government vows 'no pity' in war on tax cheats

Greek government vows 'no pity' in war on tax cheats

ATHENS - Greece's finance minister promised Saturday "no pity" in tackling tax evasion as the new left-wing government seeks to balance its books and avoid having to seek a third bailout.

"What interests us is those who have money but who have never paid (tax). They are our target and we will show no pity," Yanis Varoufakis told TV channel Skai.

This could include a one-off tax on the rich in the struggling eurozone country, he said.

"We have committed to balancing our budget. If I have to levy an extraordinary tax then I will do it, but it will only be for those who can pay... We are not going to take money off people who are suffering," he said.


Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's hard-left Syriza party swept to power last month vowing to reverse years of painful austerity cuts imposed in return for two bailouts in 2010 and 2012 worth 240 billion euros ($270 billion).

Tsipras reiterated Friday that once the current bailout expires on June 30 there will be no "third memorandum" as the previous agreements of cuts in exchange for further financial support are known.

"Memorandums are finished," he said.

The 40-year-old's self-declared "government of social salvation" however faces a major challenge keeping both voters and Greece's international creditors happy as he seeks to reverse austerity cuts while keeping government spending in check.

At the same time Greece has to repay billions of euros in debts in the coming months and Tsipras has said he wants to renegotiate the country's 320 billion euro debt pile despite fierce opposition, not least in Germany, to any such "haircut".

Greece on Tuesday won a four-month extension to its bailout, and by the end of April his government needs to provide its creditors with more details on its reform programme in order to receive the final bailout disbursement.

On Friday Germany's parliament overwhelmingly approved the extension despite a minor rebellion by members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party and surveys suggesting public unease. Her finance minister said the decision was "not easy" but necessary.

Thursday saw the first protests in Athens since the extension, with several hundred anti-capitalists and anarchists taking to the streets, some of them smashing shop windows and setting fire to rubbish bins.

Tsipras on Friday said that his government would early next week put before parliament its first legislation tackling what he called the "humanitarian crisis" in the country of 11 million.

This will include free electricity for 300,000 poor families and housing for 30,000 people, debt relief, measures to protect "hundreds of thousands" at risk of losing their homes and scrapping a controversial goldmine project.

Data on Friday showed that Greece's economy shrank by 0.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2014, more than previously thought, and the first quarter-on-quarter contraction since the country exited a six-year recession last year.

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