Idea to name and shame tax fraudsters met with scepticism

The Association of Austrian Taxpayers has spoken out against the creation of a list of tax dodgers.

The organisation said yesterday (Weds) that a decision like that would mean a “step backwards” in modern civil society. It stressed that not everyone accused of tax evasion was a criminal. “Many people whose names may be found on the lists provided by whistleblowers may have done nothing else but to appeal an order to pay additional taxes,” the association said.

Johannes Kepler University Linz (JKU) lecturer Friedrich Schneider – an expert on illicit employment and labour regulations in Austria and abroad – claimed 10 per cent of people on such lists probably did nothing wrong. He warned that publishing the names of alleged tax issue criminals would mean nothing but denouncing people who committed no felonies.

The Alliance of Taxpayers and Schneider gave their points of view on the issue following a disputed appeal by a Social Democrat (SPÖ) and the Labour Chamber (AK). SPÖ General Secretary Günther Kräuter said on Tuesday his party would fully support the publication of a “list of disgrace”.

AK officials suggested Austria should follow the example of Greece where Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos ordered anti-tax evasion authorities to reveal on the internet who failed to pay taxes in the country in the past years. The list the economically challenged country’s finance ministry published online earlier this week also features popular pop singers and actors.

AK President Herbert Tumpel refused to disclose whether he backed the appeal by fellow AK members but said finance ministry officials should make the names of the Austrian tax dodgers found on a data disc provided by a banker based in Liechtenstein public. The anonymous whistleblower provided German tax authorities with a list of hundreds of people accused of trying to evade paying taxes in their homeland by hoarding their assets in accounts managed by banks in Liechtenstein.

A spokesman for People’s Party (ÖVP) Finance Minister Maria Fekter said today anti-tax dodging experts could soon start talks about a possible bilateral agreement with Germany. The country agreed on such a partnership with Switzerland last year to claim the hundreds of millions of Euros residents of Germany tried to avoid paying in taxes in the past years. Experts think that Austrians currently stash up to 20 billion Euros in Swiss bank accounts to benefit from the country’s strict banking secrecy rules and low taxation.

ÖVP Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner said today he was strictly against Kräuter’s plans. Mitterlehner said Kräuter’s statements had a “class struggle background” and were leading to nothing but the creation of feelings of envy. Referring to a string of corruption scandals well known businessmen and ex-ministers are entangled in, Kräuter said: “It is not acceptable that some social classes assume they can do whatever they want.”