Dateline: En route from Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia
Are you guilty of money laundering? Before you answer, think again …
New laws in bankrupt Europe will FORCE you to prove that you’re not an evil tax evader … before you even get your hands on your cash.
Several years ago, the world was writing the obituary for emerging markets in Europe, including here in Latvia. Their skepticism had some foundation; real estate prices in countries like Latvia and Lithuania had plummeted by half or more, and their economies were in bad shape.
Several years later, however, Latvia and other countries are back on the right track. In fact, Latvia recently increased the government application fee for real estate investors wishing to get second residency in Latvia 357-fold. The government knows the place is primed for growth after years of taking their medicine.
The western world, on the other hand, is not in as good of shape. A short flight away, “wealthy” European economies are growing at an anemic rate. Italy, for instance, ended last year with a not-so-robust 0.1% economic growth. The developed countries of the EU, and of course the United States, never had to take their medicine. Politicians just kept the party going, colluding with central banks to print endless amounts of money to “cure” all of their woes.
It didn’t work, so now — just as we talk about here, and just as has happened all throughout history — governments are turning the gun on their own citizens.
You’re the one who will pay the price for their failed policies.
A new era of government theft
While wealth confiscation is nothing new in Europe, or even The Land of the Free, a new, bolder era of theft began last year when Cyprus bailed-in bank depositors, causing some to lose hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.
I said then, and I’m saying it again now, Cyprus was just the beginning.
Once governments lose their virginity with a new form of theft, the door is open to all sorts of madness. And now, European governments are taking a page from the United States government when it comes to not only stealing your money, but stripping you of your rights.
You may know that Americans have essentially no Fifth Amendment rights when it comes to tax cases, especially involving offshore accounts. And as the US becomes more and more of a police state, anyone who doesn’t tow the “patriotic” line is being fingered as a tax cheat.
As of last month, Italy is rolling out its own “guilty until proven innocent” strategy involving your money.
You may have read that Italy has started withholding 20% of all inbound foreign wire transfers, except those that have received “prior government approval”. That means any money coming into an Italian bank account from abroad now gets an immediate 20% haircut with no way to get around it.
If you’re a business owner in bankrupt Italy, you should get ready to press the “eject” button and go somewhere that respects your hard work and capital.
That said, if you already run a business in Italy, you’re in a terrible position. Short of going to the endlessly bureaucratic Italian government and begging for permission to have your incoming funds left untouched, you have no options.
When I built an $11 million radio company, I frequently did deals on which I didn’t even net 20%. That means that, had I lived in present day Italy, I would have LOST money on every one of those deals. I couldn’t have even paid my vendors, let alone pocket a single dime myself.
Of course, the government never cares what happens to the small business owner who faces these dilemmas. When some bureaucrat decides to throw a “medical device tax” into Obamacare, they don’t think about the paperwork and accounting nightmare it will cause small device manufacturers.
Or perhaps they just don’t care.
Either way, Italy has just effectively hung up a giant “closed for business” sign at the border. As if it wasn’t enough to have highly unionized labor forces that seem to always be on strike, the Italian government is now branding every Italian receiving money from overseas as a money launderer.
What does it take to prove your financial innocence?
Of course, the Italian government will argue that those who aren’t money launderers have nothing to worry about. After all, Italy will allow you to get the 20% they skim off back in time if you can prove that your incoming wire transfer wasn’t “of an income nature”.
That means that every individual and every business owner who gets money from anywhere outside Italy has to prove, at their own time and expense, that money flowing into their bank account isn’t income. What could possibly go wrong with that?
In the best case scenario, it creates a huge paperwork burden for businesses that may already be holding on for dear life. With such anemic growth in the Italian economy, I can’t imagine too many business owners (not connected to cronies in the government) who are exactly raking in the dough.
The Italian government — like any other government — could care less if their entrepreneurs proposer. They’re perfectly happy to let everyone go out of business so they can sign up more constituents for their social welfare state and expand their grasp on power… until the whole thing falls apart and the country becomes the next Weimar Republic, if not worse.
Of course, the “guilty until proven innocent” concept is in full force in governments all around the world. Just try leaving the United States with $20,000 in gold tomorrow and see what Customs inspectors say to you. While you may get through unscathed, it’s also very likely they’ll accuse you of being a drug dealer or a tax evader.
And they just might confiscate your entire stash of gold, cash, or other financial instruments.
Legally, they have the right to do that, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. Even if they’re in error, good luck fighting them for your money back.
What’s happening in Italy is just the latest example of governments making up the rules as they go along. In fact, Italy even made its wealth confiscation on wire transfers RETROACTIVE. Even if you played by the rules in the first place, they can force you to comply with new, more draconian rules later.
The lesson this teaches us is that you really can’t afford to have the bulk of your money in places that don’t respect it. Governments in Europe, the United States, and other OECD member states will continue to dream up new ways to tax, levy, steal, or confiscate anything they can get their mitts on.
They proved in Cyprus that using fancy news speak like “stability levy”, along with “making small depositors whole”, was enough to get away with massive wealth confiscation. Now, Italy is using the label “money launderer” to force anyone who depends on the global economy for money to subject more people to its silly laws.
If you’re reading this, chances are your government is already tightening the noose, too.