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Dolce, Gabbana Tax Trial Presses On

The designers’ lawyer Massimo Dinoia shined a spotlight on their profession and “the astronomical distance” between them and management.

MILAN — The characters and inclinations of Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana took center stage at the second hearing of the defendants’ appeal in their tax trial on Friday.

This story first appeared in the April 7, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The designers’ lawyer Massimo Dinoia shined a spotlight on their profession and “the astronomical distance” between them and management, logistics or fiscal issues to prove that they had no direct responsibility in establishing Gado Srl or its administration. “What is close to their heart is the soul of their fashion company,” he said.

Following investigations that began in 2008, initiated by the Guardia di Finanza, an Italian police force under the authority of the national minister of economy and finance, Dolce and Gabbana were 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 Srl. The Italian tax police reportedly consider Gado essentially a legal entity used to avoid higher corporate taxes in Italy.

Last week, Milan general prosecutor Gaetano Santamaria unexpectedly rebutted these allegations and asked for all the defendants to be acquitted, saying that the case is “groundless.”

In his impassioned speech on Friday, Dinoia noted that no witness at the trial reported ever having spoken to the designers about any management issues. Turning his attention to his own relationship with Dolce and Gabbana, he remarked that “people imagine I’ve had so many meetings with them. Not at all, I don’t even have their phone numbers.” He noted that he’d seen them “three or four times” in his life. “The last time was probably during the celebrations for the [Italian league] win of [A.C.] Milan [the city’s soccer team] — sadly a few years back now [in spring 2011],” he said wistfully to a round of titters. “They told me: We are innocent, we know nothing, we can’t help, and we don’t want to engage in this because if we follow you, we take energies away from our work. Go ahead, we have faith in you. They don’t have the faintest idea of what I am saying here today. Woe if the real life of people is not taken into account in a courtroom.”

Dinoia cited verdicts where administrators were convicted for their responsibilities, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, perceived by the judges to have benefited from tax evasion as de facto responsible for Mediaset group in that case. However, this does not apply to Dolce and Gabbana, whose purpose was to transfer their brands to the Luxembourg-based Gado, he said. “They had every interest that this should be really done, and by doing so they had already reached their goal.”

Dinoia firmly pointed to the transparency of the sale of the designers’ brands to Gado. “The designers have always acted openly and above board. Gado was a legitimate operation, otherwise why speak of it in the 2004 annual review, where the facts and motivations were explained with a page on the structure of the group that comprised also another dozen companies? Nothing was hidden.”

“And enough with the story that the number of employees was inadequate. The Dolce & Gabbana group counted 2,500 employees in 2006 that became 3,140 the following year,” said Dinoia, remarking that, if the company had wanted to do so, it could have expanded its head count at Gado. “This was feasible and easily done, but it wasn’t done because [the company] thought one employee was more than sufficient,” he continued.

The lawyer referenced Santo Versace on a TV show and how he had related his late brother Gianni Versace’s words: “Don’t ever make a mess, do all that is necessary, without ever ending up in a mess.” Dinoia linked this message to Dolce and Gabbana. “They would never have wanted anything that was not legitimate. Designers don’t deal with finance or administration, and they don’t want to know about either one,” he said, evoking the relevance of the “principle of personality in dealing with penal responsibility.” Dinoia underscored how the designers’ day job has nothing to do with the management of the company and how all witnesses during the trial said as much. Even prosecutors admitted that the designers had “stayed a bit outside the door,” Dinoia reminded the three-judge appeals court, before asking them to acquit his clients.

Likewise, lawyer Giuseppe Bana asked the judges to acquit his client, accountant Luciano Patelli, as he “had no knowledge or aim to bring someone else to willful misconduct.” Neither the tax police nor the revenue service “contested the right to set the company up in Luxembourg,” and Patelli had “actually urged to follow the laws, he is immune from censure,” concluded Bana. Lawyers Francesco Mucciarelli and Francesco Centonze also asked to acquit their clients, general director Cristiana Ruella and finance director Giuseppe Minoni, respectively, as their cases are “groundless.”

The final verdict is expected at the end of the next hearing on April 30, following potential spontaneous declarations or additional remarks from the prosecutor.