Greek former transport minister caught driving uninsured luxury car with fake license plates

ATHENS, Greece – A former transport minister was arrested in debt-crippled Greece on Tuesday accused of driving his — uninsured — luxury car with fake license plates in an apparent effort to dodge paying road tax.

Greek police said Michalis Liapis, who belongs to one of Greece’s most prominent political families, was stopped in his jeep after allegedly ignoring a road stop sign east of Athens.

The arrest 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.

Police said the 62-year-old had handed his license plates over to tax authorities to avoid an estimated 1,320 euros ($1,814) in road tax for 2013, and was illegally using copies of the originals.

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 Tuesday, and police requested that he should be charged with forgery, giving false statements to tax authorities and driving an uninsured vehicle.

Liapis served as transport minister between 2004-2007 in the conservative New Democracy government — leading campaigns to improve Greeks’ driving habits — and later as culture minister. He retired from politics in 2009. His late uncle, Constantine Karamanlis was a former Greek president and prime minister who founded New Democracy in 1974.

According to his wealth declaration for 2011, Liapis and his wife owned 28 pieces of real estate, including a villa with a swimming pool on the resort island of Mykonos. His declared income for that year was 109,000 euros ($150,000).