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Taxman investigates Fiat’s Agnelli family

Italian tax authorities are investigating the Agnelli family, owners of the car manufacturers Fiat, after allegations were made that Gianni Agnelli, the late Fiat chairman, hid €1 billion of undeclared assets in Swiss bank accounts.

Agnelli's daughter, Margherita Agnelli de Pahlen, made allegations in 2007 that she had been denied her full inheritance because it had not taken into consideration the hidden assets. Agnelli's widow, Marella Agnelli, denies the claims and the family feud has reportedly strained the relationship between Margherita Agnelli de Pahlen and two of her sons John Elkann (pictured), Fiat vice-chairman, and Lapo Elkann.

The Agnelli probe is part of a wider investigation into the tax affairs of 170,000 Italians who hold offshore bank accounts. The Italian government is also considering a tax amnesty to encourage wealthy Italian's to bring their money back onshore.

The public nature of the allegations against Gianni Agnelli has caused embarrassment for the Turin-based Agnellis, who attract a considerable amount of media attention in Italy due to their status.

John Elkann, great great grandson of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli, is chairman of the Agnelli family-controlled investment company Exor as well as Fiat vice-chairman. He was chosen by his grandfather Gianni Agnelli as the next head of the dynasty and he is not under investigation in the tax probe.

Fiat has been under the control of the Agnelli family since it was founded in 1899. Latest available figures put company revenues at €59.8 billion, while Exor recorded revenues in January 2009 of €2.6 billion. 

Yesterday's news comes at the end of a week dominated by offshore account related stories, most notably the settlement of the high-profile US/UBS case. (Click here to read our coverage of the story)

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