Silvio Berlusconi has backed an amnesty for tax dodgers despite accusations that he was buying votes with his promises of €4 billion ($6.4 billion) in tax rebates just weeks ahead of elections.
The ex-Premier, who was convicted of tax fraud in October, had already provoked a chorus of criticism with the announcement that - if elected - he would scrap part of the Imu property tax and refund voters the payments they had already made.
Centre-left politicians accused him of demagoguery and desperate tactics in an attempt to buy votes ahead of this month's general election. Outgoing technocrat Premier Mario Monti said Berlusconi had never kept any of his promises in 15 years.
But unabashed, the conservative ex-Premier yesterday called for a total amnesty on tax arrears. "Monti's talking rubbish," said Berlusconi. "If there's anyone with credibility in Italy, it's me."
He repeated that abolishing Imu tax payments was do-able and then added: "I'm absolutely in favour of a total tax amnesty. The left has always been against it but if they give us a majority now, I think we should do it."
Tax evasion is thought to cost Italy €250 billion a year.
Berlusconi claimed his proposals to shelve Imu and Irap taxes would cost the economy €4 billion next year. He said this could be recouped by public spending cuts and vague plans to tax Italian business activity in Switzerland.
But Italian newspapers reported the real cost of scrapping both taxes would be €80 billion in five years.