MILAN (Reuters) - Wealthy Italians have grown richer during the economic crisis thanks to money shipped home under a generous tax amnesty, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study.
The combined wealth of Italy's richest 640,000 families was up 19 percent at a record 882 billion euros ($1.2 trillion) at the end of 2009, according to the survey, carried out with the University of Parma.
The richest families were defined as those holding at least 500,000 euros in financial assets.
The bulk of the increase was 85 billion euros repatriated at the end of 2009 under an Italian tax amnesty on assets held in secret accounts in Switzerland and other countries.
While the rich were increasing their wealth in 2009, Italy's economy contracted by 5 percent, the largest drop in post-war history.
Wealthy Italian families are again expected to increase their fortunes in 2010, this time with an overall rise of 5.3 percent, according to the report.
The Italian government began a tax amnesty September, waiving penalties on hidden assets with the payment of a upfront fee of 5 percent on the amounts declared. The amnesty was to have ended in December but has been extended until April, with the fee now 7 percent.
The government has said 95 billion euros held illegally overseas was declared between September and December under the program.
The amnesty has generated healthy inflows for such asset managers as Banca Generali. It reported on Monday record net inflows in 2009 of 2.076 billion euros, or one-sixth of its total assets under management.
The group, owned by insurer Assicurazioni Generali, also said it was seeing good inflows in 2010 with the continuation of the tax amnesty.
Financial assets held by Italy's richest families fell for the first time in 2008 to 740 billion euros as the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc dragged down financial markets around the world.
Reporting by Lisa Jucca; editing by Karen Foster