Collectively the fraudsters deprived the state of a record €2.3 billion between January 1st, 2017 and May 31st of this year, the Guardia di Finanza said on Wednesday.
"We're not talking about small shop owners, artisans or entrepreneurs – who represent the economic backbone of Italy – that might have forgotten to issue a receipt," the force said in its latest report. "We're talking about major evaders, that is, fiscally dangerous subjects whose assets are the direct expression of their financial crimes."
The force said it had already recovered €1.3 billion by confiscating assets from large-scale evaders, who were the worst offenders of a total of nearly 13,000 people or companies caught dodging taxes over the same period.
Responding to the figures, Finance Minister Giovanni Tria reiterated his pledge to crack down on tax fraud and evasion, which he said was limiting Italy's potential for growth. The new government has promised to increase penalties for the biggest tax dodgers, while radically simplifying the Italian tax system down to just two basic rates to encourage greater participation.
Altogether 23,000 financial crimes were uncovered since the start of 2017, for which 17,000 individual suspects were identified and 378 arrested. The majority of the offences – 67 percent – related to issuing false receipts or invoices, filing fraudulent returns and concealing accounting records.
Among the biggest offenders, other scams involved so-called carousel fraud (in which a trader imports goods duty-free and sells them on to domestic buyers, charging them sales tax which they then pocket), creating phantom companies to obscure ownership, or stashing profits offshore.
Another 2,120 overseas companies operating in Italy were discovered to have failed to declare their earnings here.
Over the past 18 months, the Guardia di Finanza also cautioned more than 6,000 employers for hiring some 31,000 people "on the black" (undeclared), seized €2 billion of assets from members of the mafia, confiscated 264 million counterfeit goods, €12 million in fake banknotes, more than 100 tonnes of drugs and 370 tonnes of contraband tobacco, and arrested 751 people accused of smuggling goods and people into Italy by sea.
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Photo: Ken Teegardin/Flickr