Italy cracks down on speculative pricing for anti-coronavirus items

Italy’s financial police said Thursday they have begun raiding retailers suspected of dramatically inflating prices for items in demand for helping consumers protect themselves against the coronavirus.

The first two raids carried out were on the Italian offices of U.S online retailers Amazon and eBay on suspicion of carrying out “speculative maneuvers” in regard to sales of surgical masks, disinfectant gels, and other products suddenly in high demand, as Italians wrestle with an outbreak of the virus.

As of Thursday, more than 600 people in Italy have been infected with the virus. At least 14 people in the country have so far died from the outbreak.

Earlier this week, Deputy Minister of Economy Laura Castelli said the government would begin looking into what she called “shameful speculation” by retailers raising prices by ten times or more.

In the wake of Castelli’s remarks, the financial police — formally known as the Guardia di Finanza — went to the Italian headquarters of Amazon and eBay to seek documents related to the sales of the products in question.

According to local media reports, the companies vowed to cooperate with police but noted that prices for specific items were set by individual sellers using their platforms and not by the online giants themselves.

The Guardia di Finanza said Thursday other raids could be carried out in the coming days, looking not only for “speculative maneuvers” but also for tax irregularities and “fraud” in the case of items sold being mislabeled to indicate they are especially suited for protection against coronavirus.