Early this year Italian tax officials traced the owners of 133 Lamborghinis, Ferraris, SUVs and other top-end cars that they found parked in the snow-lined streets of Cortina d’Ampezzo, a winter playground for the rich and famous in the Dolomites.
They found that 42 of the owners – nearly a third – had declared incomes of less than 22,000 euros (£18,000) a year. A further 16 claimed to be earning less than 50,000 euros a year.
The spot checks were carried out by a team of 80 officers from Italy’s inland revenue agency, who said it would be almost impossible to run a top-of-the-range BMW or Porsche on such modest salaries, at a time when a full tank of petrol for a high-performance car can cost 180 euros.
Another 118 sports cars were found to be owned by companies, rather than individuals, for the purposes of tax write-offs. But of those companies, 19 declared losses for the tax year 2009-2010, while 37 claimed to have made profits of 50,000 euros or less.
Tax officials found evidence that hotels, restaurants, boutiques and beauty salons were also hugely under-declaring their takings. In perhaps the most striking case, inspectors found that the owner of a luxury goods boutique, whose revenue last year amounted to 1.6 million euros, could not produce a single tax receipt or document, suggesting that most if not all of his income went undeclared.
The raids caused indignation among locals and visitors in Cortina, who said that the high-profile resort had been unfairly demonized as a nest of rich tax evaders, when the problem was widespread. “Cortina is no different from the rest of the country,” a local businessman, Guido Barilla, told Corriere della Sera newspaper. “The situation is worse in other parts of Italy. It’s not as though tax evaders are all concentrated here. Owners of luxury cars may not pay their taxes, but nor do millions of other Italians.”