Huge fraud involving false
assets costs Italian funders €35m, writes Antonio


Photograph of the Guardia di Finanza fraud swoopTwo police
operations in Italy have unearthed criminal activity which has cost
Italian leasing and insurance companies millions of euros.

In one case, which has been dubbed
Operation Caterpillar, the Venice arm of Guardia di Finanza (GdF)
police has uncovered fraudulent activity amounting to more than
€100m and affecting 21 leasing companies, which have been defrauded
of €35m. The cost to the state for the loss of tax revenue amounts
to €50m.

GdF have confirmed Italy’s major
lessors, including UniCredit Leasing, Leasint, UBI Leasing, Hypo
Alpe Adria and BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions were among the victims
of the scam.

The GdF investigation, which lasted
over a year, has revealed around 150 firms were involved to some
extent in the fraud since 2003. The scheme was agreed between
lessees and suppliers. The lessees would fake documents to provide
evidence of their financial soundness in order to get the financing
from the lessors – mostly for construction plant.

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At the same time, the suppliers
would fallaciously document the assets’ existence by counterfeiting
the CE marking. No assets were actually sold or transferred in the

The lessees then falsely reported
the theft of the equipment or, in some cases, declared bankruptcy.
The proceeds of the crime were split between the lessees and
suppliers, and ‘cleaned up’ by buying real estate and other

GdF have arrested seven people and
confiscated real estate and other assets worth €5m. Charges have
been pressed against 117 people, including 25 for criminal
conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering.

Separately, GdF in Genoa have
crushed down a fraudulent operation which smuggled leased trucks
into North Africa. The operation, dubbed Operation Trucks, has
uncovered a scam set up by a number of Calabria-based firms to
dodge lessors.

The companies rented new trucks
from the leasing companies, and after regularly paying the lease
for some months, they suddenly stopped their payments. They then
took the vehicles abroad, fabricating documents in order to dodge
customs police controls, and reported the theft of the trucks.

As the leasing companies had insurance coverage against theft,
insurance companies have been hit by the plot. The police have
confiscated six trucks, each worth €150,000, and located an
additional nine in Libya and Egypt. Charges have been brought
against 12 people.