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Italian report
by Euro Reporter
2016-06-15 10:01:52
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'Mein Kampf' giveaway in Italy angers leaders and readers

The Italian newspaper Il Giornale has sparked outrage after giving away free copies of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," the dictator's autobiography and political manifesto, with a paid supplement to Saturday’s edition. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called the move "sleazy" and Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, said it was a “vile act.” Il Giornale, a conservative daily newspaper published in Milan, distributed free copies of an annotated edition of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” to readers, Reuters reports. "Know it in order to reject it" was the justification given by the tabloid, writes Al-Jazeera.

italy_400The paper is owned by Paolo Berlusconi, brother of Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who served as its publisher from 1977-94. This weekend, Il Giornale started selling a multi-instalment history of the Third Reich, with the annotated copy of “Mein Kampf” given away free for readers who bought the first instalment. The newspaper's editor, Alessandro Sallusti, explained in an editorial the decision to give away Hitler's book. "Studying evil to prevent it from happening again, perhaps in new and deceptive guises," Sallusti wrote. "That is the real and only purpose of what we have done."

Not everyone bought the newspaper's explanation. In a post on Twitter, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called the move "sleazy," and offered his "affectionate embrace to the Jewish community," adding a hashtag that translates as "Never again." Renzi's sentiments were echoed by Gattegna, Union of Italian Jewish Communities president, who said the giveaway "is light years away from all logic of studying the Shoah and the different factors that led the whole of humanity to sink into an abyss of unending hatred, death and violence."

"Mein Kampf" was effectively banned in Germany for decades, as the copyright was owned by the state of Bavaria, which forbade publishers to print editions of the book. That changed earlier this year, however, after the copyright expired. An annotated version of the book has been available in Germany since January, although many observers believe publishing a version of the book without annotations would violate the country's "Volksverhetzung" laws, which prohibit inciting hatred.


Italy market watchdog made 'grave errors'

Italy's market watchdog Consob committed "grave errors" in its oversight of bond sales by banks to retail clients, the industry minister said on Monday. Last year thousands of Italians lost savings invested in bonds after four small banks declared bankruptcy under tough European Union rules that require shareholders and holders of junior or subordinated debt to shoulder some of the pain in a bank rescue. RAI state television's investigative news programme "Report" revealed this month what it said was a letter to Consob head Giuseppe Vegas. In the letter a Consob division head refers to "indications" made by Vegas that banks remove risk probabilities from their bond prospectuses, Report said.

The letter, dated May 3, 2011, said that according to Vegas's recommendations "banks will be invited to not insert information on probabilities in the prospectus and will ask that they be eliminated should some banks do it of their own initiative". Asked on Monday about the letter and Report's call for the Consob chief's resignation, Industry Minister Carlo Calenda said: "I don't believe it's up to the government to comment, but grave errors were made. Report is right." Consob, whose job is to make sure that investors are properly informed when they buy financial products, did not immediately respond to Calenda's comment. It has previously denied that Vegas said risk probabilities should be removed. Vegas did not respond to an email asking for comment on Monday. Consob "is doing its job", said Carmine Di Noia, a Consob commissioner, on the side-lines of a conference in Milan.

After the airing of Report on June 5, Consob said there had never been a legal requirement to include risk probabilities in bond prospectuses, either nationally or at a European level. Deputy Economy Minister Enrico Zanetti said last week that Vegas should quit. "The credibility of institutions like Consob must be preserved and this can sometimes happen by taking a step back. By not resigning, Vegas is damaging the institution," he said. Italy has been struggling to shore up its banking system, which is fragmented and laden with bad loans, and both Consob and the Bank of Italy have come under pressure to improve oversight of lenders. Vegas took over at Consob in December 2010 after being nominated by then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. His mandate ends in December 2017. Last year, when junior bond holders lost their savings, Consob said sale prospectuses for junior bonds always detailed the risks. One pensioner hanged himself after his life savings were wiped out, and others who had lost money staged vocal protests. In April, the government passed a measure to reimburse some retail bondholders who lost money when the banks went under.


Private equity fights Italy tax changes

Private equity groups are fighting new guidelines from Italy’s tax agency that would lead to higher levies on profits from deals struck in the eurozone’s third-largest economy. These guidelines, published by Italy’s Agenzia delle Entrate on March 30, could limit the ability of global leveraged buyout funds to use entities in lower tax countries, such as Luxembourg, to structure their Italian transactions — a common way of minimising their tax bills. Amid mounting concern in the industry, the Italian private equity and venture association (Aifi), a lobby group, has sent a letter to the Italian tax agency demanding a series of “clarifications” on the guidance. “[Italian tax authorities] have taken a slightly crooked path which they will have to correct,” Alessandra Bechi, the director of the tax and legal office at Aifi, which is due to open an office in London on Monday, told the Financial Times. “It is not in Italy’s interest to discourage international funds,” she added.

Concerns about the taxation of private equity deals in Italy comes at a particularly sensitive time, since the government led by Matteo Renzi has pushed hard to encourage foreign investment. In particular, it has sought to encourage more financing for Italian companies and start-ups through alternative sources, given that many Italian banks, saddled by non-performing loans, are limiting their lending. Private equity groups are also expected to play a key role in snapping up portfolios of bad loans from Italian banks. However, at the same time, Italian authorities are seeking to curtail tax avoidance as they face heavy budgetary constraints, and face growing public pressure to crack down on tax havens. Last year, €3.1bn worth of transactions were completed in Italy by international private equity funds, eclipsing the €1.6bn in deals done by domestic funds, according to Aifi. That represented a sharp increase compared to the €1.9bn in transactions by international private equity groups in Italy in 2014, and a return to pre-crisis levels. “They are among the largest players investing in Italy at the moment and they are in turmoil about this. Serious investors should not be hit,” said one lawyer representing international private equity groups active in Italy. One additional concern with the new guidance is that it could apply retroactively, covering old deals as well as new ones, the lawyer added.

For private equity groups, the guidance on the taxation of international deals was particularly jarring because it came within a broader document in which the tax agency set forth clearer guidelines on the deductibility of interest payments — which the groups had been pleased with. The Italian tax agency declined to comment directly on the concerns of the private equity groups but pointed to Aifi’s statement after the guidelines were published in which it said it was “satisfied” with the document. But Aifi also said the Italian market would become more attractive to private equity “especially if some points regarding international funds are clarified”. The Italian finance ministry declined to comment on the tax agency’s document. But one Italian official said that it had been “favourably received in financial quarters where the pro-business elements were noted”. The Italian tax agency has agreed to meet Aifi representatives in the coming weeks to try to iron out some of their differences, which Ms Bechi said was a good sign. “The fact that the dialogue is continuing shows there is a willingness to reason,” she said.


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