Astute investors, they have been reluctant to lend a hand to the Greek treasury through the risky proposition of buying government bonds. But they have also been slow to dispense funds to philanthropies trying to combat the mounting social ills that their nation’s economic collapse has wrought — drawing a sharp rebuke from the head of a foundation created from Greek shipping wealth that has become Greece’s largest charitable donor in recent years.

Mainly, though, they have done what Greeks, from the richest to those of modest means, have traditionally done: pay as little as they can in the way of taxes.
Many economists say the oligarchs are a big part of Greece’s economic problem, because they have capitalized on the insular, quasi-monopolistic approach to business that is one reason their nation has long lagged the far more competitive economies of many other euro zone nations. The moneyed elite in

Greece have always been secretive in nature, especially when it comes to their fortunes. Assessing the ultimate value of Greek private sector wealth is a nearly impossible task, because much of the money exists offshore, secreted away in Swiss bank accounts or invested in real estate in London and Monaco.
Now, with the country’s top vote-getter, the leftist firebrand Alexis Tsipras, talking more and more about nationalizing companies and industries and, in the words of his top economic adviser, “taxing the rich,” there is even more incentive to lie low.
Of course, the left is not alone in this view.

“Let’s be frank — the well-off need to pay their fair share of taxes,” Bob Traa, the International Monetary Fund’s representative in Greece, said in a speech last year in Athens.

Last year alone, an estimated 8 billion euros ($10.2 billion) in collectible taxes were in arrears — nearly half of the country’s budget deficit.
The nation’s tycoons have every incentive to keep their country in the euro currency union. The question is, are they willing to bear the cost of doing so?

“The oligarchs want to keep the euro — largely because of the banks which are so deeply integrated in the euro system,” said Costas Lapavitsas, an economist at the University of London. “But they are keeping quiet about it.”

But as children go hungry in Greek schools because their parents have no money with which to feed them, and the streets of Athens become home to growing numbers of desperate, jobless people, pressure is mounting on the country’s rich to do what the state can no longer effectively do: write checks.

After all, philanthropy is a Greek word. But with many wealthy Greeks still fearful of showing their financial hand, private giving to date has been relatively meager.

“I get the sense that almost nothing is being done,” said Andreas C. Dracopoulos, co-president of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which was set up in the 1990s to put to charitable use the winnings of its shipping tycoon founder. “Everyone is saying let someone else do it, and so far I am seeing little action.”

This January, the Niarchos foundation, which describes itself as an international charity with offices in Athens, New York and Monaco, said it would donate 100 million euros to a series of projects aimed at helping Greeks cope with the economic crisis. Plans include food vouchers to help destitute parents feed their children and programs to attack the growing epidemic of homelessness in big cities like Athens and Piraeus.

Shipping analysts guess that the value of Greek shipping assets alone is about $85 billion — although they hasten to add that those assets underpin a substantial debt burden of around 300 billion euros ($380 billion) for the industry, used to finance vessels that can cost hundreds of millions of euros each. And in the slack global economy, shipping — and shipping magnates — are feeling the pinch.

Thanassis Martinos, a second-generation shipping heir, said his company, Eastern Mediterranean, was having one of its worst years on record and was likely to lose money in 2012.