(NEW YORK) — Across Italy, police are cracking down on tax evaders, and are able to find them by the car they drive. Drivers of Lamborghinis and Ferraris are being pulled over and are asked for their licenses, registrations and tax registration IDs.
The country is currently $2.5 trillion dollars in debt. The specific targeting of drivers with luxury cars is a part of an ongoing tax war, with Italian tax officials trying to change a culture that has often prided itself on avoiding taxes. Police are pursuing drivers to make sure that they are declaring, and therefore paying taxes on, earnings that would allow them to afford luxury vehicles worth as much as half a million dollars. Since the new technocratic government took power in November, it has made tax collection a priority.
The crackdown seems to be working. Italian officials say they have discovered more than $12 billion in unpaid taxes already this year and more than 2,000 luxury car owners who underpaid their taxes. Some say the tax culture is now slowly changing.
But the crackdown has experienced a fierce backlash. Tax collection branches of the national revenue agency have been targets of terrorist attacks, with more than 250 in the last year.
Last week, Prime Minister Mario Monti visited the tax authority’s Rome headquarters and reaffirmed his support of the crackdown and said that rich Italians avoiding taxes hurts the poorest Italians and that tax cheats are like “giving poisoned bread to their children.”
According to one anonymous Ferrari owner who spoke with ABC News, people are very frightened by the tax checks and cross-referencing that tax agencies can perform and that many Ferrari owners have been trying to sell their cars in an attempt to keep a low profile. With the heightened increase in selling back a Ferrari, their value has dropped at least twenty percent.
With the government allowing tax authorities heightened access to bank accounts, “fiscal evasion is a bad thing for everyone, not a cunning habit anymore,” says Attilio Befera, the Italian tax agency’s director. “The Italians’ culture is changing.”
But do people really support this change as much as Befera insists? Everyone can be against tax evasion, especially when someone else is doing it.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN