Equitalia is a state-owned tax collection agency. Created in 2007, it was meant to replace all the private companies previously in charge of the task. In 2010 Equitalia collected 8.87 billion euros; its profits for the same year came to 1.29 billion euros(Report), with 1.22 billion coming from the 9% commission premium that Equitalia charged on top of the 4% interest that debtors owed to different public administration companies. This means that the company has been profiting from civilian debt by charging exorbitant interest rates. However, even though Equitalia functions like a private company that looks to earn as much profit as possible, if it were to suffer losses, it is the taxpayers who would be expected to cover the costs.
Many factors are responsible for Equitalia’s overwhelming unpopularity:there are serious conflicts of interest, with many politicians and bank managers sitting on its board; Equitalia’s slow administration has lead to increased costs and, consequently, to hikes in interest rates to cover these; the agency labels every person who is behind on his/her payments as a tax evader; it has made serious mistakes with regular taxpayers; many of the recent suicides in Italy are linked to debts owed to Equitalia and with its lack of flexibility; and the list goes on.
Indeed, Equitalia has now become the target of many protests and violence all over Italy. In December 2011 a parcel bomb exploded at an Equitalia office in Rome, injuring the local director Marco Cuccagna (BBC news). According to police, the package contained a leaflet signed by the Italian anarchist group FAI.
Furthermore, the company has been accused of having overstepped its powers and responsibilities. Such claims have recently been confirmed by a legal ruling that states that, at least in some cases, Equitalia did act wrongly. For example, In Italy, homes can only be foreclosed when outstanding mortgage payments surpass 8000 euros; however, Equitalia is known to have done this for 5000 euros, in some cases. At the same time, there is still controversy over whether or not the charge of 10% interest every six months, usually applied by Equitalia to traffic fines, is legal.
It’s not clear whether or not this ruling influenced the events of the past few days. Nevertheless, as of Wednesday 9 May, Equitalia is at the epicentre of an earthquake: two of the company’s bases have been occupied and two others in Genoa have been evacuated due to bomb threats, which were ultimately revealed to be groundless.
The first occupation began on Wednesday 9 May at Termini Imerese, Sicily, where FIAT recently laid-off an entire factory. Occupiers protested both the lack of employment, and Equitalia’s practice of pressuring debtors to pay even when they are unemployed. The occupation continued all through the night.
The second occupation began in Mestre, near Venice, the following day. Everybody who was in Equitalia’s office that morning was asked to evacuate the building, after which a wall was built in front of the office and covered with banners reading “Stop Equitalia”.
Moreover, the week before, in Romano Lombardo near Bergamo, a man went into an Equitalia office with a rifle and held employees hostage for many hours before surrendering to police.
On the 11th, other acts of violence were carried out: two Equitalia tax collectors were beaten in a city near Milan; in Naples, the local branch needed police to defend it against a protest carried out in solidarity with the current suicides taking place across the country; and in Viterbo, police arrested a man for uttering death threats against Equitalia employees.
Recently, the institution became aware of what the ANCI (National Association of Local Municipalities) president called “the many cases of social injustice”. Some local institutions are terminating their contract with Equitalia early, choosing to collect taxes on their own. The Municipalies that have terminated their contracts before the contract end-date are Riccione, Calalzo di Cadore (Belluno), Morazzone (Varese), Thiene (Vicenza), San Donà di Piave (Venezia), Vigevano (Pavia), Zanica (Bergamo) and Merate (Lecco), as well as the whole Piemonte Region.
The mayor of Reggio justified the breach, asking for a “humane relationship with the citizens”, i.e., spreading payments over time, analyzing the cases on an individual basis, and locking in the rates at a lower level than Equitalia currently does.
Unfortunately, the situation is becoming more complicated with each passing day. On 12 May in Livorno, two molotov bombs were thrown at the local Equitalia branch; police are blaming anarchists. In addition, Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri has declared, “I respect families that can’t manage to pay taxes, but I want to firmly and explicitly state that Equitalia represents the state, thus the attacks will be treated as a subversive act”. Also, she has not dismissed the possibility of deploying the army to deal with the matter.
– [en] Bomb at Equitalia office in Rome (Dec. 2011)
– [en] Occupation at Termini Imerese
– [en] Gunman at Equitalia office surrenders to police
– [en] Street protests in Naples against Equitalia
– [en] Fire bombs against Equitlia
– [en] Army to be used to protect targets of anarchist terror
– [it] Equitalia controversies on mortgage payments
– [it] Occupation at Mestre
– [it] Bomb threat in Genoa
– [it] Municipalities escape from Equitalia
– [it] Bergamo attack and it’s mediatic representation
– [it] Demonstration, irregular acts and abuse of power