Italy partial tax amnesty put on back-burner in parliament

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 11, 2014 12:42 PM

ROME (Reuters) - Italian lawmakers have put the brakes on a plan to fast-track a partial amnesty for tax dodgers with assets stashed abroad after they expressed concern the cost and bureaucracy could discourage people from owning up, a government official said on Tuesday.

The idea behind the amnesty was to favor a return of assets to Italy ahead of an agreement with Switzerland, which is still being negotiated, for it to open up its bank databases to Italian tax authorities.

Lawmakers estimate that as much as 250 billion euros in Italian assets reside outside the country, much of it in Switzerland.

Italy has long suffered rampant tax evasion and successive governments have pledged crackdowns with the aim of reducing the fiscal burden on ordinary Italians and relieving the strain on public finances - with debts of about 2 trillion euros - as it struggles to emerge from its longest postwar recession.

The plan had been passed as an emergency decree by ex-Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government in January, which meant it had to be ratified within 60 days - the end of the month - to become law.

Now it will be considered as a standard parliamentary bill, which has no deadline.

Parliamentary opposition to the conditions of the so-called "voluntary disclosure" legislation prompted the government to delay the package, Economy Ministry Undersecretary Luigi Casero told reporters in parliament.

There was concern during parliamentary hearings that re-calculating old tax sheets would have been extremely complex and costly and would have discouraged disclosure.

Some lawmakers and tax experts have suggested simplifying the process by fixing a single quota of between 18 and 25 percent to be paid when repatriating assets.

Another condition that concerned lawmakers was the lack of clarity on whether accountants and tax lawyers would have faced possible criminal charges for having aided those evading tax.

In the decree, the state would have agreed to drop most criminal charges if tax dodgers voluntarily declared their hidden assets and paid back the taxes owed plus a small fine.

However, they would still have been liable for prosecution for more serious financial crimes.

(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Roberto Landucci; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Alison Williams)