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Beating Tax Cheats Key To Italy's Recovery Plan

One remarkable conclusion to draw from the official cheating estimates: winning the war on tax cheats could wipe out many times over the country's budget deficit, which is expected to soon reach euros 42 billion ($53 billion). And it would rapidly knock away at the nation's colossal public debt of ⿬2 trillion ($2.5 trillion), or 125 percent of GDP.

But "big international frauds are up," lamented Lt. Col. Gianluca Campana, in charge of the income tax unit revenue protection office at the Guardia di Finanza, Italy's financial police corps which reports to the Economy Ministry.

The entrenched practice by many cafes, eateries, hair dressers and similar small business of neglecting to give customers mandatory cash register receipts commonly grabs the attention in crackdowns on tax evasion in Italy.

But, cautioned Campana, "one false (big business) invoice can equal no cash register receipts for coffees for two months."

Over all of 2011, the total of non-declared income discovered by tax police amounted to some ⿬50 billion ($65 billion), of which some 20 percent was due to international tax evasion, he said. By comparison, in the first nine months of this year, tax police discovered some ⿬40 billion in undeclared income, with 30 percent of that blamed on international tax evasion, Campana said.

With the economic crisis shrinking bottom lines, and Italy increasingly on the hunt for big-time evasion, especially by big businesses, "there is a tendency to move capital abroad, using maneuvers apparently legal but which really are not," Campana said. A classic technique consists of declaring one's formal residence abroad in tax havens like Monte Carlo. Also common are companies that clearly have their business base in Italy but claim it is abroad in countries with far lower tax brackets.

Campana is armed with three degrees, including a masters in tax law from Milan's Bocconi University, the prestigious economics institute formerly headed by Monti. He brings skills to this specialized police corps that are as finely tuned as sharp-shooting.

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