International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde has issued a statement clarifying comments with regards to Greeks not paying taxes after her Facebook page was bombarded with negative comments from irate Greeks and the country’s political parties slammed her assessment.
In a statement late on Saturday, Lagarde expressed sympathy for Greeks “and the challenges they are facing” and said that her comments regarding tax evasion were in reference to the “most privileged”.
In an interview with The Guardian, Lagarde adopted a tough stance on the Greek crisis, identifying tax evasion as a fundamental problem. Asked if she considers the social impact of austerity measures in Greece, Lagarde responded: «No, I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens."
The former French finance minister then added: “As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax."
Asked whether it was payback time for Greeks and other Europeans who had enjoyed themselves in the past, Lagarde said: «That's right."
Lagarde was also questioned whether visitors to Greece next year would be paying in euros or drachmas. She refused to comment, apart from saying: «A holiday in Greece, it's a good investment for the country!"
The IMF chief’s comments were roundly criticized by Greece’s political parties.
“Nobody should humiliate a people during a crisis and I call on Mrs Lagarde, who insulted the Greek people with her attitude, to rethink what she wanted to say,” said PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos during a speech in Nafplio.
“The Lagarde comments reveal the cynicism and true role of the International Monetary Fund, which is responsible for the destruction of whole societies,” said SYRIZA in a statement. “PASOK and New Democracy bear huge responsibility for submitting the country to an IMF program, which leads to bankruptcy and poverty.”
Hundreds of Greeks left comments criticizing or abusing Lagarde on her Facebook page following the publication of her interview with the Guardian. The IMF managing director later published a clarification.
“As I have said many times before, I am very sympathetic to the Greek people and the challenges they are facing,” she said. 2That's why the IMF is supporting Greece in its endeavor to overcome the current crisis and return to the path of economic growth, jobs and stability.
“An important part of this effort is that everyone should carry their fair share of the burden, especially the most privileged and especially in terms of paying their taxes. That is the point I was emphasizing when I spoke to the Guardian newspaper as part of a broader interview some time ago.”
The head of the IMF’s mission for the Greek crisis, Poul Thomsen, was due to visit Greece after the May 6 elections but that trip was postponed after the failure to form a government.