A proposal from the Greek government to hire housewives, students and even tourists to form an army of amateur undercover tax inspectors has attracted derision, since it was revealed in a letter leaked late Friday.
The proposal came to light in a letter from Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem, which was published by the Financial Times. It is believed to be one of a number of proposals that Greece's new leftist government will put to Eurozone finance ministers in a meeting scheduled for Monday.
In order to combat a “culture of tax avoidance that runs deep within Greek society,” Varoufakis proposes that “large numbers of non-professional inspectors are hired on short-term, strictly casual basis … to pose, after some basic training, as customers, on behalf of the tax authorities, while 'wired' for sound and video.”
The letter says that the amateur agents would be barred from challenging offenders, but that the evidence they obtained would “bear legal weight”, and be allow the formal tax authorities to take action.
Furthermore, Varoufakis argues that the knowledge that “thousands of onlookers are everywhere, bearing audio and video equipment on behalf of the tax authorities, has the capacity to shift attitudes very quickly.”
Not everyone, however, shared the finance minister's confidence in the scheme.
"If they expect to combat tax evasion this way, they are not only dangerous, since they do not grasp the legal ramifications of the measure, or its effectiveness, but are also ridiculous and expose the country to ridicule," Greece's New Democracy party spokesman Costas Karagounis told the Associated Press.
The Wall Street Journal's chief European commentator Simon Nixon also expressed his skepticism on Twitter. “In return for giant loan, Greece promises to wiretap tourists, sell some gambling licenses, let folk pay taxes over 8 years. Er, that's it.”
The Financial Times said that the letter is the latest evidence of a growing divide between the positions of the Greek government and its international creditors.
“It’s quite hilarious, if it were not so tragic, that this is what a government in an industrialized country comes up with,” one eurozone official involved in the talks told the paper.