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Belgian Designer Bikkembergs Accused of Tax Evasion

Italy's tax authorities claim Dirk Bikkembergs owes 111 million euros.

MILAN — Italy’s tax authorities are accusing Belgian designer Dirk Bikkembergs of evading tax payments of 111 million euros, or $139.6 million at current exchange rates.

This story first appeared in the July 14, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Bikkembergs’ lawyer, Francesco Giuliani, told WWD the allegations stem from an audit carried out in 2006 and 2007 by the Guardia di Finanza, an Italian police force under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance that investigates tax evasions and related violations.

The inquiry is focusing on two companies, 22 Srl, which produces clothing in Italy for Bikkembergs’ brand, and Luxembourg-based IFF Sarl, which distributes the brand’s products. The police and prosecutors allege that the designer’s organization is in Italy, but that revenues are redirected to Luxembourg instead of being declared and taxed in Italy.

Giuliani said Bikkembergs is contesting the charges. “We will ask for a suspension of the verdict,” he said, referring to the accusations. “Our position is that the authorities have not taken into account the real situation: IFF does not have a structured organization in Italy, and they [the tax authorities] did not correctly calculate the turnover of IFF, as they did not take into account the company’s costs.”

Giuliani said there were “glaring” mistakes in the data, although the fiscal commission in Pesaro, Italy, has so far rejected the designer’s efforts to refute the allegations.

Bikkembergs’ collections are produced in Fano, in central Italy, either directly or indirectly. “Bikkembergs is very keen to preserve production in Italy,” said Giuliani, who hopes the company will be cleared within a year or two. “We feel we are in the right.”

Bikkembergs was one of the Antwerp Six, an influential group of designers from Antwerp, Belgium’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts that included Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, among others. Bikkembergs moved on from the academy to start his career with a footwear collection in 1986. His men’s line was launched in 1988, followed in 1993 by a women’s collection. Since the spring 1989 season, the designer has worked only with Italian manufacturers. He is known for his soccer-inspired sportswear designs.

The company did not provide financial or retail information.