Gold Stashed in Bag Shows Hurdles in Italy’s Tax-Evasion Fight

  • Rome got 19 billion euros from evasion crackdown last year
  • Border check shows illegal repatriation practices still common

On the day Italy claimed an unprecedented victory campaign against tax evasion, 125 gold coins found during a police check on a train from Switzerland come as a reminder of how long the road to compliance still is. 

Italy’s tax agency got about 19 billion euros ($20 billion) from cracking down on tax evasion last year, its head Rossella Orlandi told reporters at a press conference Thursday with Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.

While Padoan lauded Italians’ rising tax compliance and international cooperation, the work done by his finance police highlights just how widespread illegal practices remain. Policemen discovered almost 1.7 kilograms (3.7 pounds) in gold coins -- worth about 53,000 euros -- this week during a random search on a train from Switzerland.

The 57-year-old Italian passenger, a researcher who had tried to hide the coins in a bag, was held by police and will have to pay custom duties and a penalty, Italy’s Guardia di Finanza tax police said in a statement on Thursday. European Union law requires cash of more than 10,000 euros to be declared at the border.

In 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available, the amount of the so-called underground economy in Italy totaled 194 billion euros, Istat said in a report in October.

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