Hunting Italy’s tax scofflaws and their yachts off the Sardinian coast
There used to be a time when Italy’s super-rich gravitated to the smartest enclaves of Sardinia for a summer of relaxation and luxury. Not any more. In an increasingly austerity-conscious country, the yacht-owning classes are coming under increasing and unwelcome scrutiny, some of which would not look out of place in a scene from the film Apocalypse Now…
The tough measures have been enough to spark a furious reaction from royalty, actors and entrepreneurs who keep their yachts on the nearby Costa Smeralda and are now threatening to move on to Corsica or France’s Côte d’Azur.
“These helicopter raids are a huge problem and many yachts won’t be back to Sardinia any time soon,” said Roberto Azzi, who runs a rental agency called Emerald Yachts.
The helicopter raids top a terrible summer for Italy’s upmarket sailors, who have suffered regular visits from tax inspectors instituting prime minister Mario Monti’s crackdown on tax avoidance. “We are 30% down this season,” complained Azzi…
Azzi admitted that the islands have long been officially out of bounds, but the boats had flocked there anyway. “And now, with the crisis on, they go and send in a helicopter? The rules are arbitrary and there are 2,000 people employed in the business here who stand to lose their jobs if the yachts flee…
Azzi said that the helicopter raid was not the only way Italian law enforcers were managing to upset the rich this summer. “Since the sinking of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, there has been a ban on cruise ships sailing too close to protected areas,” he said.
The problem, he added, is that police have been confusing mega-yachts with cruise ships and harassing billionaires as they lie at anchor in a beauty spot: “They ordered Roman Abramovich’s yacht to retreat from the Costa Smeralda and return to Porto Fino.”
As the mega-yachts sailed by the wealthy Russians fall foul of the law, the smaller motorboats run by Italians are proving a magnet for tax police inspectors who are sent out by the Monti government to crack down on tax dodgers and raise crucial funds for Italy’s battered balance sheet. “We are in a state of war” against tax evasion, Monti warned on Friday.
I’m not exactly overwhelmed with sympathy for these tax dodgers. They and their pet politicians like Berlusconi – our own pet politicians like Romney – only add to the bill that ends up being paid by working people who can’t afford gold-plated tax attorneys and lawyers.