Italian tax inspectors go undercover on beaches
AS MILLIONS of Italians soak up the sun on their annual summer holidays, not even the beaches are safe from the scrutiny of the country’s tax police.
Tax officers have resorted to going undercover in board shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses to root out tax evasion among “stabilimenti” – the operators who hire out umbrellas, changing cabins and sun loungers to beachgoers.
Members of the Guardia di Finanza normally wear military-style grey uniforms with elaborate braiding and epaulettes, but a team of officers donned beachwear so as to pass incognito while they carried out their spot checks.
In the Adriatic resort of Rimini, famed for its miles of golden beaches and lively bars and nightclubs, they found that 15 out of 36 beach-hire businesses were breaking the law by failing to give out receipts for their services. The “blitz”, as it was dubbed by the Italian press, was carried out last week to coincide with the Ferragosto national holiday, when most of the country is basting in the sunshine at coastal resorts.
The agents carried out the checks on a broad stretch of beach either side of the five-star Grand Hotel, a famous establishment which featured in the films of Federico Fellini, who grew up in Rimini.
Many of the owners of the beach-hire businesses are suspected of having evaded taxes for years, depositing their money in bank accounts in the nearby independent republic of San Marino, which is trying to shake off its reputation as a shady tax haven.
Similar results were obtained when inspectors checked bathing establishments in Ostia, a popular beach resort near Rome – 62 out of 95 businesses were caught out not giving receipts to their customers.
Italy’s fight against tax evasion received has renewed impetus under the technical administration of Mario Monti, the former European commissioner who replaced Silvio Berlusconi in November.
Mr Monti said on Sunday that the country was in “a state of war” against tax evaders. “Tax evasion badly damages the perception of Italy abroad,” Mr Monti said in an interview with news magazine Tempi.
“I think Italy finds itself in difficulty above all because of this phenomenon and finds itself in a 'state of war’. There are rich Italians who systematically do not pay their taxes.”
He said he was trying to give as much encouragement and support as possible to the Guardia di Finanza and the inland revenue service to crack down on tax dodging and recover revenue to tackle the country’s national debt of nearly €2 trillion.