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Pay up or weigh anchor? Italy's yacht owners feel the tax collector's heat

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Next to seeking refuge, some owners are trading in their flashy yachts and motor launches for smaller vessels that present less of a tempting target for the authorities, or are paying to have them stored in boat yards, away from prying eyes. They can then access their beloved boats on low-cost budget flights from their homes in Italy.

“We understand that Italy, like Spain and Greece, needs to recover revenue, but these inspections could be made by the Guardia di Finanza [the Italian law enforcement agency under authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance] from their desks, using computer records about yacht ownership, instead of in the marinas,” says Roberto Perocchio, the head of Assomarinas.

“This is the worst crisis in Italian boating history. The authorities are using scare tactics and creating a climate of fear. They are criminalizing the boat industry with fiscal terrorism,” he adds.

Spot checks 'necessary'

A spokesman for the Guardia di Finanza in Rome said the spot checks were necessary because not all boat records were computerized.

The agency’s officers cross-reference the details with the amount of earnings boat owners had declared to see if they could afford the purchase. The tax police pointed out that their checks had revealed startling cases of tax avoidance.

When the Guardia di Finanza officers checked 963 yachts moored in a picturesque marina in Bari, a port on the Adriatic coast, they found that 286 – nearly one-third – were owned by people who had filed suspiciously low tax returns, or no tax returns at all. In the most extreme case, inspectors found a yacht worth 1.2 million euros owned by a businessman who had never filed a tax return in his life. Another vessel, worth an estimated 700,000 euros, was owned by a company that had declared annual revenue of just 1,300 euros.

'Obsessive' authorities

Despite those discoveries, the boating sector insists that the majority of owners are honest and are being unjustly persecuted because of the sins of a few.

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