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Italian tax collectors don skis for spot-checks in Alpine resort

Courmayeur latest target in crackdown against businesses not issuing proper receipts, a practice costing Italy €120bn a year

Italian authorities have taken the fight against tax cheats to new heights, 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 was a new sheriff in town, his name is Mario Monti, and there was no place left to hide.

With skis strapped on, the tax inspectors seemed no different from the tourists riding up the lifts. 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 Santanché, a former undersecretary in the cabinet of the ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The new administration, under Mario Monti, is battling hard against Italy’s public debt crisis, pushing through an austerity package. Last week, the government announced its intentions to tax the Catholic church’s solely commercial properties

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

The entrenched practice cost the Italian treasury an estimated €120bn (£100bn) a year. But a crackdown by the Agenzia delle Entrate, Italy’s tax collection agency, and the guardia di finanzia, the fiscal police, recovered nearly €12bn last year.

The latest tax raids began on 30 December in the ski town of Cortina, where spot-checks of 251 luxury cars showed some Ferrari owners reported earning less than €30,000 a year. After a similar swoop in Rome’s shopping district on 28 January, 400 agents raided 115 locales in Milan and the following day, while 82% of 386 business in Naples were not issuing proper receipts.

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