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Italian report Italian report
by Euro Reporter
2013-08-22 09:42:27
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Italy’s Garment-Factory Slave

Aside from the cobbled streets and terra cotta rooftops, the Via Pistoiese that dissects the Tuscan town of Prato outside Florence is not like other Italian streets. You won’t smell sautéed garlic here. Instead the pungent smell of peanut oil and dongpo pork permeates the air. The storefront signs are almost all in Chinese hanzi on vertical ribbons of red or blue with tiny Italian translations across the bottom. The grocery stores carry classic Chinese staples like rice and bamboo shoots instead of pasta and cans of tomatoes. The faces, too, are almost all Chinese. “There is absolutely no integration. They live in their part of town and we live in ours,” says lifelong Prato resident Giovanni Braccini, 73, who has watched the slow evolution of his city into what he describes as a foreign capital. “You aren’t in Italy here,” he says. “This is China now.”

Chinese immigration into Italy has tripled in the last decade, according to Italy’s official statistical agency Istat, which estimates that more than 210,000 Chinese live in Italy, although only 41,000 are legally registered. The number of Chinese-owned businesses has grown by 232 percent across the country since 2003, with the largest influx into Milan, Naples, and Prato. Many of the Chinese who live in Italy illegally came to the country by way of human traffickers, in what is reported to be a made-to-order market for garment workers who have specialized skills for the ready-to-wear market. Last week 75 people in France and Spain were arrested as part of an intricate human-trafficking ring that brings such workers to Italy. Jan and his wife, Li, who did not want to give their real names because they are in Italy illegally, arrived in Rome last January by way of such traffickers. They paid $50,000 each for transport and documents, including fake transit papers that will likely keep them from being repatriated to China if they are arrested by Italian police. Li’s sister works in Prato in a silk-dying factory, and Li is planning to join her when the factory hires new workers for the fall production season. Li doesn’t speak Italian, but she won’t need it in Prato, her husband says. Jan, who learned basic Italian before coming to Italy, will work for his relatives in Rome who have a Chinese five-and-dime store until he has enough money to start his own enterprise, he says. “We also have an Italian dream,” he told The Daily Beast. “We will make back our investment to come here.”

Jan and Li have the right kind of documents to allow them some protection, but many Chinese are living so far under the radar that no one knows who they really are. In June, a headless torso believed to belong to a Chinese migrant worker turned up in the Venice lagoon. No one has ever claimed her body. Another nameless Chinese victim, this time a man in his 60s, was fished out of the Venice lagoon last week. Authorities are searching for anyone who might know his identity. No one on any missing-persons list in Italy matches either of the Venice victims’ profile. This month a young Chinese man with documents under the name Zhou Zheng Guo was stabbed in the back as he surfed the Net at an Internet point in Prato. Authorities have posted pictures around town to try to find someone who may know his family to claim his remains. So far no one knows who he really was.

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Italy's Letta says problems threatening government can be overcome

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said on Wednesday he was confident that problems threatening his fragile coalition government, which is struggling to meet demands from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right, can be overcome. "I am sure that everyone will do their part to get out of this difficulty, which I think can be overcome," Letta said during a visit to Austria, where he emphasized Italy's need for political stability to protect the first signs it could be returning to economic growth after its longest post-war recession.

Berlusconi's conviction for tax fraud has threatened the stability of the government, with the former prime minister's centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party demanding guarantees for his political future. On Wednesday Italian press reported that PDL leaders would present a list of demands to Letta as the price for continuing to support an awkward coalition of traditional rivals, forced to rule together to end months of post-election stalemate in April.

In autumn Berlusconi, a four-time prime minister, faces a vote in the Senate on whether to remove him from parliament and prevent him from standing for election.

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Italy pilots tax cheat computer to spot fraud

Tax police in Italy have started using a new computer system that compares declared revenues with expenditures to crack down on tax cheats. The "redditometro" (revenue metre) will try to recover at least a small fraction of the estimated €120bn (£103bn) in taxes dodged each year. It will initially analyse the books over the past four years of a sample 35,000 households, including looking at mortgages, cars and even food purchases. If it identifies a discrepancy of more than 20% between income and outgoings, the redditometro will immediately trigger a tax inspection.

Italy has one of Europe's biggest grey economies and highest levels of cash transactions, making tax evasion a constant problem despite repeated crackdowns. The problem is particularly acute in the services sector and police often carry out raids on shopping areas or high-class resorts that reveal massive fraud. The new system is made up of dozens of computers that analyse databases and "can uncover the big tax evaders and the fake poor," Marco di Capua, the deputy director of the tax agency, told reporters. The redditometro is a new version of a similar system first introduced in 2010 by then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was himself convicted of tax fraud earlier this month.

It led to the recovery of £99m in 2011 and only £26m in 2012 - a tiny amount compared with estimates of how much in reality is owed. The new policy has been criticised by some for not going far enough and by others, mainly right-wing politicians, as a massive interference by the state. Matteo Salvini, a deputy leader of the opposition Northern League party, described it as the type of system "used by communist and fascist regimes". Prime Minister Enrico Letta has promised to redouble efforts against evasion and said the sums recovered would be used to lower Italy's high tax burden.

 


         
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