Governments turn up heat on tax cheats in Med

| 22/09/2010

( Panic swept through Italy’s superyacht owners like wildfire last May, when finance police pounced offshore and seized the 63m Force Blue from Formula One tycoon Flavio Briatore, evicting his ex-model wife and infant son, amid accusations of tax fraud. Tax police said Briatore was suspected of evading €4m ($5m) in unpaid VAT on the boat and tax of €800,000 on fuel. Legal advisers around the world promptly told their clients – some 90 per cent of whom, like Briatore, had their yachts under the Cayman Islands flag – to reconsider before entering Italian waters. In both Italy and Greece, the Mediterranean yachting idyll is coming under threat, as cash-strapped governments turn up the heat on tax evaders.


Over the summer, undercover inspectors in T-shirts and flip-flops were popping up in Italian marinas, checking ownership of yachts against tax returns, asking such embarrassing questions as how someone claiming disability or social welfare could be at the helm of a 15m boat.
Similar moves – but so far without the drama of a high-profile seizure – are afoot in Greece, where financial police are checking the names of superyachts berthed at marinas around Athens against the registry of non-ocean going vessels at the maritime affairs ministry.
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