MILAN — In the latest development in a complicated case of alleged tax evasion involving 12 judicial procedures, Dirk Bikkembergs’ lawyer is seeking to fully clear the Belgian designer’s name.
A lot has happened in the two years since Italy’s tax authorities accused Bikkembergs of evading tax payments of 111 million euros, or $144.8 million at current exchange. In July, Bikkembergs sold his brand to Zeis Excelsa SpA, the label’s footwear licensee and closed his Fossombrone, Italy-based manufacturing company 22 Srl. A regional tax commission has cleared the designer of the charges.
Upturning a verdict of a lower court, the regional commission said Bikkembergs did not avoid paying taxes through his companies 22 Srl and IFF Sarl. The latter was indeed headquartered in Luxembourg, said the commission — with the exception of four Fossombrone-based employees, whom the tax police believed were in charge of global sales. For this reason, IFF is still expected to pay more than 1 million euros, or $1.3 million, in taxes. This week, Bikkembergs’ lawyer Francesco Giuliani told WWD that he “believe[s] this is unfounded and we have contested this verdict.” Another Italian judge said the four individuals were merely agents entitled to commissions equal to 5 percent of the group’s total sales. A legal source said “a second level court deemed it was impossible to believe that four employees could sell the Bikkembergs collections around the world.”
The original investigation, stemming 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, involved two companies: 22 Srl, which produces clothing in Fossombrone for Bikkembergs’ brand, and Luxembourg-based IFF Sarl, the distributor of the brand’s products.
The authorities alleged the Bikkembergs organization was based in Italy and revenues were redirected to Luxembourg instead of being declared and taxed in Italy. Giuliani contested the charges, saying that “the authorities have not taken into account the real situation: IFF does not have a structured organization in Italy, and [the tax authorities] did not correctly calculate the turnover of IFF, as they did not take into account the company’s costs.”
The designer said at the time that the accusations were “shameful towards a foreign investor” that has “attempted to set up a part of its business in Italy, not to mention the damage to the reputation of a designer who has done much to contribute to the local economy.”
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. He launched a footwear collection in 1986, followed by a men’s line in 1988 and a women’s collection in 1993, which was frozen seven years ago. The designer returned to the women’s arena in February with a presentation during Milan Fashion Week.