Technology whizz kid tackles Greek tax evasion

Fri Feb 15, 2013 4:18am EST
 

By Harry Papachristou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece is pinning its hopes of boosting revenue from an antiquated tax system beset by massive evasion on Harry Theoharis, a boyish-looking 42-year-old who describes himself as an "I.T. monkey".

With Athens fighting to stave off bankruptcy, the former London-based technology manager for Lehman Brothers is tasked with modernizing what is effectively a 19th century tax bureaucracy and bringing it up to euro zone standards.

"I'm not the type of person who will lock himself up in his tower and not talk to anyone," Theoharis told Reuters. "We must organize services better and cut routine procedures."

Theoharis had long left Lehman Brothers when the U.S. investment bank collapsed in 2008. But this event set off a worldwide crisis which helped the following year to bring down Aspis Pronia, a Greek insurance group where he was chief information officer.

During the crisis Greek tax revenue also collapsed as the economy went into a downward spiral, compounding the long-standing problem of evasion and forcing Athens into an international bailout.

Last month, Theoharis was appointed Secretary General for Public Revenue - a powerful job Athens created at the behest of its EU and IMF lenders. His job is to rid the tax service of political meddling and remove underperforming officials as part of reforms prescribed in the bailout deal keeping Greece afloat.

Previously as chief of the finance ministry's data service, he introduced innovations such online payment of road taxes. An avid user of Twitter - where he described himself as the I.T. monkey - he tweets taxpayers at one in the morning and yet appears clean-shaven on TV talkshows six hours later.

"The budget and the bailout plan are setting clear targets. Everybody will be measured against them, every quarter," Theoharis said in an interview at his modest office in the finance ministry.   Continued...

 
Greece's Secretary General for Public Revenue Harry Theoharis (C) shakes hands with an employee of Pallini's tax office during his visit in Pallini suburb, east of Athens February 15, 2013. REUTERS/John Kolesidis