This latest amnesty is the third in the past decade. In 2002-03, Berlusconi gave an amnesty covering assets held outside Italy. Some €78 billion of personal assets were repatriated at that time. This was followed by an amnesty targeted at undeclared assets held inside the country. That one revealed around €100 billion of assets not revealed to the authorities.
The latest inflow of repatriated illicit funds will provide a short-term fillip to the flagging economy, but we are sceptical about claims by the Ministry of Finance that "the time of tax havens has finished forever. To place or keep money in tax havens is no longer convenient, neither in economic nor in tax terms. The returns are small, the risk is high."
The problem lies with the combination of the low penalty levied (5 per cent is way below norms) and the anonymity granted to tax evaders. This leniency will do little to deter anyone from jumping back on the merry-go-round. What it does demonstrate, however, is how one set of (lenient) rules apply to rich and well-connected people, while those at the other end of the social spectrum, especially immigrants, can expect no leniency whatsoever.
O tempora, o mores.