As millions of Italians hit the road and head to the sea for the traditional mid-August holiday of Ferragosto, they may want to think twice about where they stop to refuel.
An investigation by Italy's Guardia di Finanza – the branch of the police which investigates financial crimes – into the fiscal legality of businesses in Italy's commercial sector revealed extensive tax evasion, malpractice, fraud and criminal activity.
The wide-ranging operation investigated holiday rentals, petrol stations, the production and sale of counterfeit goods, licensing in the tourism sector and smuggling.
Of 1,379 petrol stations that were checked on Italy's roads, “one in five was found to be illegal.” Some 500,000 litres of petrol were confiscated.
The Guardia di Finanza made 22,271 checks on various sectors, an average of 500 a day since mid-June, as part of the operation. The results reveal a similar yet worrying pattern.
More than half of the holiday rentals investigated – second and third homes owned by Italians and put up for rent during the holiday season – have not paid tax on their earnings or registered with the relevant authorities, according to the extensive operation by Italy's Guardia di Finanza (GdF).
In a review of 895 holiday properties investigated by the GdF, “regularities were identified” in more than 50 per cent of the cases.
Holiday home landlords in the regions of Puglia, Tuscany and Lazio – home to the Italian capital Rome – were the worst offenders.
In the historic Sicilian coastal town of Taormina, the GdF identified several B&Bs they had no idea existed. The owners of those establishments admitted to having made €130,000 without paying a cent in tax.
The GdF found that more than 2,000 commercial businesses had no license; 2,080 workers were paid off the books. In Verona, the operation even uncovered a criminal organization dedicated to employing illegal workers, mainly of African origin. Exploited workers were subjected to a “massacring work schedule” and “hunger” wages, according to the report. The criminal business even involved doctors who issued fake medical certificates and employees from Italy's social security and welfare institute INPS who falsified documents.
At least 587 individuals were also stopped at ports, airports and transit points trying to smuggle drugs, weapons and counterfeit cigarettes. 23 tonnes of various illegal narcotics and 13 tonnes of contraband cigarettes have been seized since mid-June 2018, according to the data made available on August 13th.
A total of 9 million counterfeit goods were also seized over the summer, an average of 210,000 pieces removed from the market each day. Toys, clothes and electronic goods were the main products seized.
Many illegal tourism agents operate in full sight of the authorities. Vendors of “potentially dangerous water” as well as a plethora of tourist guides with no official license were arrested near Rome's Colosseum as part of the operation.