Tue, Feb 21, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Italian tax officials don skis to battle against tax cheats

The Guardian, BOLOGNA, ITALY

Italian authorities took the fight against tax cheats to new heights on Sunday, with undercover inspectors donning skis to check whether the highest eateries in the Alps were issuing receipts.

The weekend blitz in the resort of Courmayeur was the latest in a list of high-profile undercover tax operations that read like locations of a thriller: Christmas in Cortina, the carnival of Viareggio, nightclubs in Milan, Valentine’s Day in San Remo and the street markets of Naples.

The message: There is a new sheriff in town, his name is Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, and there is no place left to hide.

The dozen or so agents’ goal was to monitor whether receipts were being issued in the high-altitude huts on the flanks of Mont Blanc, known as Monte Bianco in Italy, where VIPs stop in for grappa and hot chocolate. Another 60 colleagues performed similar spot-checks in the village below.

While such crackdowns have broad appeal among most Italians, at least one VIP in Courmayeur was unimpressed.

“They are trying to flex their muscles,” Daniela Santanche, a former undersecretary in the Cabinet of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The administration, under Monti, is battling hard against Italy’s debt crisis, pushing through an austerity package. Last week, the government announced plans to tax the Catholic Church’s commercial properties.

In Italy, discounts are sometimes offered for cash and in exchange, shops and professionals do not issue receipts, thereby avoiding taxes.

The entrenched practice cost the Italian treasury an estimated 120 billion euros (US$158.3 billion) a year. A crackdown by Italy’s tax collection agency and the fiscal police recovered almost 12 billion euros last year.

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