Italy’s tax police on the warpath against evasion

Updated 15 December 2012
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Italy’s tax police on the warpath against evasion

Tax officers in an anonymous office on the outskirts of Rome are on the frontlines of what Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti calls a war on endemic tax evasion as he struggles to fill public coffers. Police man the phones 24/7, receiving a flood of reports from citizens against tax dodgers — from landlords failing to declare their rental income to shopkeepers and waiters failing to provide receipts.
The increase in reports on the tax evasion hotline — 117 — is a sign that things are slowly changing in a country where a slice of the population has long considered taxes optional.
“In Rome we went from 6,500 calls in 2010 to 7,400 in 2011 to 8,200 for the first 10 months of 2012,” Col. Davide Cardia, head of the police’s tax center in the Italian capital, told AFP. The surge in anti-evasion informants has been even more remarkable on a national level, with the hotline receiving 91.5 percent more calls in the first nine months of this year than in the same period in 2011. “We have noticed exponential growth, particularly since autumn 2011,” Cardia said.
The colonel was referring to November 2011, when Monti, a former top European commissioner and economics professor, came to power and vowed to bring down evasion to reduce Italy’s debt mountain.
“Italy is a country where the rates of tax evasion are very high and have been for a very long time,” said Maurizio Franzini, a professor of political economy at La Sapienza University in Rome.
“The numbers are not 100-percent certain but according to some estimates evasion is equivalent to 20 percent of gross domestic product — a significant figure,” he said.
Last year, Italian tax authorities managed to claw back 12.7 billion euros ($16.6 billion) from would-be evaders — a 15-percent increase from 2010.
But there is still a long way to go.
“The big evaders are those who send their money to tax havens,” Franzini said. “We need to work on an international level to reduce the privileges of tax havens,” he said.
As they await a more concerted attack on this international aspect of tax evasion, the police have increased operations across the country to unmask all sorts of tax dodgers.
The crackdown began last winter with a raid on the chic ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Alps, where police nabbed several artful dodgers driving luxury cars who declared no revenues at all.


This summer, they targeted posh beachside resorts like Forte dei Marmi and Portofino.
The sweep has included more humble targets too.
In an operation against the bed and breakfast sector, the police found that around 30 percent of the businesses were not paying their taxes — a percentage that showed the scale of the challenge.
The high media impact of these operations has also been aimed at changing mentalities.
One new weapon in the war is the Internet.
On the website www.evasori.info, which is also available on smartphones, you can report a suspected tax evader with a couple of clicks.
The site packs a punch with the slogan on its home page: “Tax dodgers are stealing from you too!“


In emotional reunion, Spielberg revisits ‘Schindler’s List’

Updated 9 min 31 sec ago
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In emotional reunion, Spielberg revisits ‘Schindler’s List’

  • It was the first time Steven Spielberg had watched “Schindler’s List” with an audience since it was released in 1993
  • Spielberg initially shied away from “Schindler’s List,” scripted by Steven Zaillian and based on Thomas Keneally’s novel “Schindler’s Arkansas”

NEW YORK: Steven Spielberg says no film has affected him the way “Schindler’s List” did.
Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and others reunited for a 25th anniversary screening of “Schindler’s List” at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, in an evening that had obvious meaning to Spielberg and the hushed, awed crowd that packed New York’s Beacon Theater. In a Q&A following the film, Spielberg said it was the first time he had watched “Schindler’s List” with an audience since it was released in 1993.
“I have never felt since ‘Schindler’s List’ the kind of pride and satisfaction and sense of real, meaningful accomplishment — I haven’t felt that in any film post-’Schindler’s List,’” Spielberg said.
The reunion was a chance for Spielberg and the cast to reflect on the singular experience of making an acknowledged masterwork that time has done little to dull the horror of, nor its necessity. “It feels like five years ago,” Spielberg said of making the film.
Spielberg shot the film in Krakow, Poland, in black-and-white and without storyboards, instead often using hand-held cameras to create a more documentary-like realism. Neeson remembered Spielberg running with a camera and, on the fly, directing him and Kingsley down Krakow streets. “It was exciting. It was dangerous and unforgettable,” Neeson said.
“Schindler’s List,” made for just $22 million (Spielberg declined a pay check), grossed $321 million worldwide and won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. It also did much to educate the American public on the Holocaust. After the film, Spielberg established the Shoah Foundation, which took the testimony of 52,000 Holocaust survivors.
More needs to be done for Holocaust education, Spielberg said: “It’s not a pre-requisite to graduate high school, as it should be. It should be part of the social science, social studies curriculum in every public high school in this country.”
Making “Schindler’s List” was a profound, emotional and fraught experience for many of those involved. Kingsley recalled confronting a man for anti-Semitism during production. Spielberg said swastikas were sometimes painted overnight. Recreating scenes like those in the Krakow ghetto and at Auschwitz were, Spielberg said, very difficult for most of those involved. Two young Israeli actors, he said, had breakdowns after shooting a shower scene at the concentration camp.
“That aesthetic distance we always talk about between audience and experience? That was gone. And that was trauma,” said Spielberg. “There was trauma everywhere. And we captured the trauma. You can’t fake that. (The scene) where everyone takes off their clothes was probably the most traumatic day of my entire career — having to see what it meant to strip down to nothing and then completely imagine this could be your last day on earth.
“There were whole sections that go beyond anything I’ve ever experienced or seen people in front of the camera experience,” the 71-year-old filmmaker added.
Spielberg actually released two movies in 1993. “Jurassic Park” came out in June, and “Schindler’s List” followed in November. While he was shooting in Poland, Spielberg made several weekly satellite phone calls with the special effects house Industrial Light & Magic to go over Tyrannosaurus Rex shots — a distraction he abhorred.
“It built a tremendous amount of anger and resentment that I had to do this, that I actually had to go from what you experienced to dinosaurs chasing jeeps,” Spielberg told the audience. “I was very grateful later in June, though. But until then, it was a burden. This was all I cared about.”
“Schindler’s List” was a redefining film for Spielberg, who up until then was mostly considered an “entertainer,” associated with fantasy and escapism. Since, he has largely gravitated toward more dramatic and historical material like “Amistad,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Munich,” “Lincoln” and last year’s “The Post.”
But Spielberg initially shied away from “Schindler’s List,” scripted by Steven Zaillian and based on Thomas Keneally’s novel “Schindler’s Arkansas”. He urged Roman Polanski, whose mother was killed at Auschwitz, to make it. Martin Scorsese was once attached to direct.
Yet the making of “Schindler’s List” prompted an awakening for Spielberg, who has said his “Jewish life came pouring back into my heart.” On Thursday, the director said he wanted to make the film about “the banality of the deepest evil” and “stay on the march to murder, itself.”
To keep his sanity while shooting in Poland, he watched “Saturday Night Live” on Betamax and relied on weekly calls from Robin Williams.
“He would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” said Spielberg. “I would laugh hysterically because I had to release so much. But the way Robin is on the telephone, he would always hang up on you on the loudest, best laugh you’d give him.”