Breast implants catch eye of tax agents

BUENOS AIRES Wed Jan 12, 2011 11:26am EST

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Breast implants, a luxury cruise ship and bank robbery victims have become the latest targets of Argentine tax inspectors battling rampant evasion in the South American country.

Argentines are notorious for evading taxes, and it is common to pay for everything from new cars and houses to breast enlargements with wads of cash, while savers stash their money in off-shore bank accounts or undeclared in safety deposit boxes.

Tax inspectors, who have previously targeted modeling agencies and soccer players, have turned their attention to the booming trade in breast augmentation -- counting the number of imported breast implants to calculate surgeons' earnings.

"According to a preliminary assessment, the companies and self-employed people working in the business are suspected of evading 40 million pesos ($10 million) in income tax," the AFIP tax agency said in a statement.

Some 125,000 breast implants worth $15 million were imported in 2008 and 2009, when women spent an estimated $170 million on breast enlargement surgery, the agency said.

But it's not just plastic surgeons who are catching the attention of the AFIP inspectors.

They seized television sets and video players from a luxury cruise ship when it docked in Buenos Aires in December, while AFIP chief Ricardo Echegaray called last week for victims of a daring bank robbery to face inspections over the contents of 136 safety deposit boxes stolen in the raid.

(Reporting by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Helen Popper and Cynthia Osterman)

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