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Italian Prosecutor Drops Fraud Charge Against Antonio Lemma

The case is still open and other charges remain, according to legal documents.

Last June, the Italian news media went into a frenzy when the Financial Guard — Italy’s financial police — revealed embezzlement, tax evasion and false bankruptcy charges against former Limoni executives Piofrancesco Borghetti and Nazzareno Brandoni, and the arrest of Limoni supplier Antonio Lemma, owner of perfumery Vapro International and chief executive officer of First American Brands, or FAB. Lemma’s wife, also initially held, was quickly released.

This story first appeared in the May 31, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Arrested without receiving a formal notice of investigation, Lemma spent six months in a Como jail and under house arrest, before his release on Dec. 3. The prosecution, led by Giuseppe Rose, has since withdrawn the fraudulent bankruptcy charges against Lemma, but the case is still open and other charges remain, according to legal documents.

With the next hearing slated for December, it’s likely the legal proceedings will drag on: One of Lemma’s lawyers, Emanuele Caimi, explained that, in Italy, trials are usually reviewed before three magistrates and not a citizen jury like in the U.S. Once the magistrates issue their verdict, one appeal is possible on merit and one on legitimacy with the Italian Supreme Court, or Cassazione.

Lemma denies any wrongdoing, and told WWD the accusations and media circus have tainted his career and hurt his family, in addition to costing him hefty legal fees.

“I absolutely reject the charges brought against me by the public prosecutor and the Financial Guard,” said Lemma. “The accusation of tax evasion in particular was based on a false statement, and it was insulting.”

Caimi called the investigation “superficial.”

According to legal documents from the Financial Guard, the authorities questioned the existence of Lemma’s FAB, which previously had been headquartered in California. The Guard also claimed it could not locate any Social Security number or any tax returns for FAB. The Guard’s implication appeared to be that FAB was a pseudo-American operation set up so the Italian Vapro International could avoid paying taxes at home. WWD has acquired copies of FAB’s American tax returns filed from Dec. 31, 2000 through Dec. 31, 2011.

A spokesman from the Como Financial Guard said at present it had no further comment on the case.

Lemma, who has lived in New York since 2003, said that Vapro suffered losses during the international economic crisis of 2008. He also said he was using money from the more financially stable FAB to cover Vapro’s debts, but that when Limoni abruptly canceled all orders and stopped its payments to FAB, he was forced to declare bankruptcy for Vapro.