The Ferrari races through a small Italian town, accelerating around cobbled street corners. A police officer stops the car that does 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. The officer asks the driver for his license, registration – and tax registration ID.
Across Italy police are cracking down on Ferrari and Lamborghini drivers, but not because they are driving too fast. Italy, like so much of southern Europe, is drowning in debt, so police are pursuing drivers to make sure they are declaring – and therefore paying taxes on – earnings that would allow them to afford cars worth as much as half a million dollars.
The targeting is part of an ongoing war on tax cheats, an attempt to shore up $2.5 trillion of the country’s public debt and change a culture that has often prided itself on avoiding taxes. Tax authorities have long carried out much-publicized checks on owners of luxury cars, yachts, even nightclubs that don’t issue proper receipts. But since the unelected, technocratic government took power in November, it has made enforcing tax collections a priority.
The crackdown seems to be working and — some say – slowly changing the tax culture. Italian officials say they have discovered more than $12 billion in unpaid taxes already this year, and have identified more than 2,000 luxury car owners who underpaid taxes.