Italy's Prime Minister Calls For State Broadcaster to Stop Glorifying Tax Cheats

Mario Monti - P 2012
Getty Images

Mario Monti took issue with calling tax evaders "clever" as he seeks to rebuild Italians' faith in their government.

ROME – Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, embroiled in a battle against tax evasion as Italy seeks to avoid falling victim to the European debt crisis, has called for state broadcaster RAI to speak about tax cheats in a more pejorative way when they report on his efforts.

The word in question in “furbo” -- which can be translated as some mix of “clever” and “crafty” and “sly” and “sharp.” Depending on the context, it can be seen as positive or negative.

The word has been the adjective of choice for RAI journalists when they report on tax evaders, such as the scores of wealthy Ferrari owners who report almost no official income, or the businessman nabbed trying to sneak a car full of gold bullion over the border into Switzerland. Monti wants them to stop, based on the idea that it romanticizes tax evasion.

“Indeed, I will suggest to the leadership of RAI that they do not use the word ‘furbo’ in the description of those who cheat on their taxes,” said Monti, who took over as prime minister last year after media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi resigned amid personal scandals and the looming European debt situation.

"This is part of the effort to restore faith in the state and in law and order," Monti said. 

Berlusconi, who has himself been under investigation for tax evasion, as prime minister once told Italians they had a moral right to cheat on their taxes if they felt tax rates were too high.

Monti did not suggest which would should be used in lieu of furbo. The word is commonly used by most Italian media, but Monti only spoke about RAI, which is owned by the Italian Treasury.

RAI’s press office did not immediately respond to queries into whether it planned to discontinue the use of the word furbo in its broadcasts.