Billionaire playboy rallies rich against £10,000 super-yacht tax

New laws are 'more damaging than any in the world', claims Italian nightclub boss
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The Independent Online

Two views of the world are at war in Italy, and last week the battlefield was the Billionaire nightclub on Sardinia's ritzy Costa Smeralda.

The club's owner is Flavio Briatore, who manages Renault's Formula One racing team and is a partner in London's Cipriani restaurant, but is better known as the ageing, 56-year-old Italian playboy who has squired a tribe of the world's most photographed women, including Heidi Klum, with whom he had a daughter, and Naomi Campbell. His current squeeze is Elisabetta Gregoraci, Italian starlet and nude model.

And last week he came out as a man of political conviction, willing to go into battle for his chosen cause: the right of mega-rich people like himself to pay less tax. Mr Briatore moves around the Mediterranean in his 63m yacht Force Blue. But in June, the governor of the island, Renato Soru, founder of the internet service provider Tiscali, a man of the left and a Sardinian nationalist, introduced tough taxes on the mega-rich.

From this year, owners of boats longer than 60m must pay €15,000 (£10,000) per season to use Sardinia's ports. Private planes with room for more than 12 passengers must pay €1,000 each time they land, while anybody owning a second home on Sardinia larger than 1,000 sq m will face a bill of €15,000 a year.

Hostility was immediate, and Mr Briatore has cast himself as the leader of the rebels. He has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements to protest, and on Thursday night hosted a party at Billionaire for objectors.

Those who claim Mr Briatore and his chums "leave nothing in Sardinia except empty champagne bottles" were wrong, he said. "The regional government should consult businesspeople like us before enacting laws more damaging than any in the world."

But Mr Sorusaid: "Certainly we could do as Briatore dreams, abolish all taxes on second homes and cover every last scrap of land with buildings, and in this way we would spark an economic boom in no time. But what would be left after 20 years? A handful would get rich, the rest would be onlookers."

Mr Briatore's argument that the taxes will spark an exodus received some support with reports that flash yachts are heading to Portofino on the coast of Liguria instead. But Tom Barrack, a Californian who is the biggest landowner on the Costa Smeralda, said there had been no decline in business. "The hotels and restaurants are all packed and the occupancy rate is 30 per cent up on last year."

Gigi Riva, the Sardinian manager of the Italian football team, said: "Fifty km from Briatore there are people who have sheep's cheese for dinner, milk for breakfast, then head for the hills to make a living. I don't believe the tax will cause the rich any problems. The coast will do just fine without them."