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Greek Minister Sacked Over Husband’s Taxes

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George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, scrambled to shore up his crackdown on tax evaders by sacking his tourism minister on Tuesday after a newspaper revealed that her husband, a nightclub singer, owed 5.5m euros in unpaid income taxes.

Angela Gerekou, a former actress who posed topless for a Greek magazine in the 1990s, stood down to demonstrate “her sensitivity and concerns about harming the government”, a spokesman said.

She had been preparing to launch an international campaign under the slogan “You and Greece”, aimed at reviving the tourism sector after hotel bookings fell in response to global television coverage of anti-austerity riots in Athens.

Analysts said the episode would remain an embarrassment to a government that, unusually for Greece, has chosen to occupy the moral high ground on tackling corruption.

The conservative opposition party, New Democracy, was quick to accuse the Socialists of “being unable to guarantee transparency...even among their own cabinet ministers”.

“The question being posed by foreigners [in Brussels] is how sincere and determined the government is about combating tax evasion, regardless of its grandiose declarations,” said Eleftherotypia, the leftwing newspaper that revealed details of Tolis Voskopoulos’s tax returns.

Greek deputy Tourism minister, Angela Gerekou
Louisa Gouliamaki | AFP | Getty Images
Greek deputy Tourism minister, Angela Gerekou

Mr Voskopoulos, an entertainer who enjoys iconic status in Greece, had been enmeshed in a dispute with the tax authorities for the past 17 years.

He said Ms Gerekou had nothing to do with his tax problems, which dated from one of his four previous marriages. However, the financial police are broadening investigations to include other popular entertainers as well as nightclub owners, following a crackdown on prominent Athenian doctors who under reported their incomes.

The finance ministry said the bank accounts of 12 Greek orthopaedic specialists had been opened and assets seized in connection with a bribery scandal involving medical products sold by de Puy, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, the US healthcare company.

The orthopaedic specialists declared an income of €12m covering the period 2001 to 2008, but their bank deposits totalled more than €30m. Another eight orthopaedic specialists are under investigation in the same case, a ministry statement said.

The scandal came to light when a former executive of de Puy International was sentenced to a prison term in the UK for bribing Greek specialists in the state healthcare system to buy the company’s products.

Corruption is rife in the state healthcare system, which is believed to have outstanding debts equivalent to more than 2 percentage points of gross domestic product since 2004, according to pharmaceutical and medical suppliers.

The ministry of finance said: “The fight against tax evasion is of fundamental importance for restoring sound public finances and a sense of justice for citizens.”

However, public opinion remains sceptical whether the crackdown will be sustained. “After the fireworks and newspaper headlines, what? Doctors are skilled in avoiding taxes. They’ll find new ways,” said Anthimos Spinellis, a paramedic.