According to a source at SDOE, the new rings are smaller than the ones that have been operating in the northern port city but they are believed to be growing rapidly. The same source told Kathimerini that an increasing number of entrepreneurs are turning to such rackets for financial aid as banks are unable to give them loans amid tightening liquidity.
The practice of extortion rings buying winning lottery tickets en masse as a way of laundering their profits is also gaining ground, the source said.
Meanwhile, Finance Ministry inspectors have been instructed to start pursuing some 14.8 billion euros in unpaid taxes owed to the state by 4,151 individuals.
The order came a few hours after the ministry published a list of the individuals, who include several household names, in a bid to shame them into paying up.
The list includes veteran singer Tolis Voskopoulos, who owes just over half a million euros, and disgraced business tycoon Giorgos Koskotas, who owes 2.4 million euros (his brother, Stavros, owes about the same). Giorgos Batatoudis, the former president of Thessaloniki soccer club PAOK, is also on the list with tax debts of 2.5 million euros, as is Pavlos Psomiadis, the owner of a defunct insurance firm Aspis, with debts of 1.5 million euros.
Topping the list though is Nikos Kassimatis, a Thessaloniki accountant with a tax debt of 952 million euros who is currently serving a 504-year prison sentence for running a value-added tax scam.
Last September, the ministry published a similar list of 6,000 companies with a collective tax debt of 30 billion euros. That list was topped by the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), which owes 1.26 billion euros in unpaid taxes, and included 13 professional soccer clubs. It remains unclear how much of the 30 billion euros has been recouped.