MILAN — Judge Antonella Brambilla was visibly irritated on Wednesday as she presided over a hearing in the ongoing tax trial of Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
This story first appeared in the March 7, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In an authoritative manner that left little room for maneuvering, Brambilla decided to slash the number of witnesses presented by the defendants’ lawyers and expected to take the stand in future hearings, defining them as “irrelevant.” The only two witnesses expected to take the stand for company manager Antoine Noella were ruled out, and three of the witnesses called by the designers’ lawyer Massimo Dinoia were also invalidated. There was also some quibbling over scheduling upcoming hearings as Brambilla demanded consultants take the stand before the witnesses.
Also, Brambilla rejected objections put forward by Dinoia, who accused prosecutors Gaetano Ruta and Laura Pedio of violating international regulations in their procedure to enlist two Italian witnesses residing abroad so that they could take the stand on Wednesday.
Federica Marchionni, a Dolce & Gabbana employee who lives in the U.S., did not make it to the courthouse, and Brambilla will decide on March 20, the next scheduled hearing, “on her objective relevance.”
The other witness, Claudia Valentina Bertinetti, arrived later in the morning from Switzerland, where she currently works for Nestlé. She was trademark manager for Gado Sarl from Oct. 2006 to Dec. 2007. The investigations that led to both designers being charged with alleged tax evasion related to the 2004 sale of the Dolce & Gabbana and D&G brands to the designers’ Luxembourg-based holding company Gado. The Italian tax police reportedly consider Gado essentially a legal entity used to avoid higher corporate taxes in Italy. Dolce and Gabbana are charged with omitted and unfaithful earnings declarations. The defendants have denied the charges.
Bertinetti succeeded Maria Grazia Bergomi, who took the stand on Feb. 6. Like Bergomi, Bertinetti said there were no other Gado employees and that she was autonomous in managing the brands’ protection. Only for “exceptional cases, the confiscation of merchandise or penal actions,” she would meet with Dolce & Gabbana managing director and board member Cristiana Ruella, who frequently traveled to Luxembourg, or discuss the issues via e-mail or telephone. When Bertinetti was informed that Gado was going to change headquarters and was asked if she wanted to continue in her position, Bertinetti decided to remain in Luxembourg for personal reasons, she related.
Ruella and company manager Giuseppe Minoni, who were in attendance with Dolce’s brother Alfonso, were expected to take the stand on Wednesday, but as the hearing did not continue into the afternoon session, the testimony is likely going to take place on March 20. Hearings were also scheduled for April 10 and 17.