Former Transport Minister Michalis Liapis, who was charged with driving an uninsured luxury cars with phony license plates so he could avoid paying a 1,320 euros ($1,814) road tax came up with the money, a fine of 780 euros ($1,066) and paid his 2014 tax “as a gesture of good will,” his lawyer said, as the former New Democracy party member’s trial was delayed from Dec. 19 to Dec. 30.
The case has been an embarrassment to New Democracy, which first didn’t denounce the arrest that came as Greeks were buried under austerity measures and are having trouble paying taxes with far less income than Liapis, whose declaration of wealth showed he and his wife own 28 properties, including a luxury villa with a swimming pool on the high-end island of Mykonos and he reported an income of 109,223 euros ($150,212) annually.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy leader, swiftly ordered Justice Minister Charalambos Athanasiou not to be lenient on politicians charged with offense and said even Members of Parliament who do will see their immunity lifted.
Party leaders were furious Liapis had caused an embarrassment, especially with his excuse that he couldn’t afford to pay the tax because, “I’m a pensioner,” even though he and his wife own 28 properties, including a villa with a swimming pool on the resort island of Mykonos and he was planning a trip to Asia.
New Democracy Secretary Andreas Papamikos lashed out and said: “Mr. Liapis’ irresponsibility caused the worst impression, and now he will face justice as any other citizen, without any privileges.”
Liapis failed to appear in court after being shown in the media in handcuffs being taken away by police.
If convicted, Liapis faces a suspended jail sentence of between six months to five years. He was also fined 780 euros ($1,075) for driving an uninsured vehicle and other offenses, including having tinted windows.
Liapis served as transport minister between 2004-2007 and later as culture minister. His late uncle, Constantine Karamanlis, was a former Greek president and prime minister who founded New Democracy in 1974.
After asserting at his arrested that “I’m a pensioner,” – at a time when some pensioners are living on 300 euros a month – was ridiculed by critics. “The crisis has also affected me,” he said, referring to the ongoing recession. “I’m not saying I’m poor,” added Liapis, who is 62. He also had around 45,000 euros in bank deposits, according to the declaration of wealth statements required of politicians.
Liapis was stopped in Loutsa, northeast of Athens on Dec. 17 after failing to halt the SUV he was driving at a stop sign. The members of the DIAS motorcycle-riding squad who stopped him found that apart from using forged plates and not having valid insurance, the ex-minister also did not have his driver’s permit or identification card with him.
A police source told Kathimerini that, in an apparent bid to avoid being checked, Liapis reminded the DIAS officers that he had once been a minister. In radio contact with their superiors, the officers were told to follow normal procedures. As a result, Liapis was arrested and his vehicle towed. His trial has been set for Dec. 18.
Liapis, who served as a New Democracy MP for 24 years, said that he gave in the car’s original license plates in August as he planned not to use the vehicle due to the extra taxation he would face.
“I had left the car in a garage in Porto Rafti but I was about to go on a trip to Asia and was afraid the battery would go flat,” the ex-minister said by way of explaining why he was driving the SUV. “It was unfortunate. I will be punished appropriately.” He didn’t say why he could afford to go to Asia but not pay the road tax.
The arrest of Liapis, who belongs to one of Greece’s most prominent political families, would have been unimaginable a few years ago, and reflects a shift in authorities’ attitude toward public figures amid rising resentment for the political class seen as responsible for the country’s financial woes.
Speaking after his arrest, the retired conservative politician said he had made a mistake. “I erred, and must pay the consequences,” Liapis said. “I only took the car out to charge the battery.”
As incomes have tumbled and taxes repeatedly hiked amid Greece’s acute financial crisis, thousands of Greeks have handed back their car number plates to avoid road tax, on condition that they keep the vehicles in private parking and do not drive them on public roads.
Liapis was led in handcuffs before a prosecutor later, and police requested that he should be charged with forgery, giving false statements to tax authorities and driving an uninsured vehicle.
In 2007, when he was transport minister, Liapis inaugurated the country’s new traffic code, in the company of his first cousin, then prime minister Costas Karamanlis.
He said then that, “The aim of the transport ministry is to make road safety and the rules of the road into a major national issue.”
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)