Argentinian taxman puts squeeze on breast surgeons

Agency aims to recover millions of undeclared taxes from Argentina’s booming plastic surgery industry.

Argentinian financial authorities battling rampant tax evasion are targeting the country’s booming plastic surgery trade in an effort to recover millions of undeclared pesos from breast implant procedures.

Argentina’s insatiable appetite for plastic surgery sees women spend more than £100m on breast augmentation surgery every year, mostly paid for in cash. Clinics are commonplace in a country where an estimated one in three people have gone under the knife to fix perceived flaws.

The AFIP (Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos) tax agency said that about 125,000 silicone implants were imported into the country in 2008-9, with an estimated worth of £9.5m, and calculated that surgeons owed the government millions of pesos.

“According to a preliminary assessment, the companies and self-employed people working in the business are suspected of evading 40m pesos [£6.3m] in income tax,” the agency said.

AFIP has previously targeted two other national Argentinian obsessions: football players and modelling agencies. But it faces an uphill struggle. It is thought that more than half of the country’s economy operates in cash, or “black money”, and is never declared to the tax office. Non-payment of tax is a source of personal pride for many Argentinians.

“Why should I give the government a peso? They rob us blind every day,” said Martin Elis Mendez, an apartment porter in Buenos Aires. “We have learned it’s best to keep what you have for yourselves.”

In the 2001 economic crash, thousands lost their savings when the banking system collapsed. A decade on, it is still common practice to pay for everything – from groceries to cars, houses and holidays, as well as plastic surgery – with wads of banknotes.

Instead of trusting the government and financial institutions with their money, many opt to keep their savings in offshore bank accounts or stashed away undeclared in safety deposit boxes. This doesn’t always mean their money is safe: last week thieves broke into a bank through a 30-metre tunnel and took the contents of up to 140 personal boxes.

Sensing an opportunity, AFIP called for the victims of the robbery to face inspections over the undeclared contents of the stolen boxes. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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