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Tonino Perna Faces Judge in Italy

In an interrogation that lasted almost five hours, the former IT Holding chairman and ceo responded to the accusations that led to his arrest.

MILAN — In an interrogation that lasted almost five hours, former IT Holding chairman and chief executive officer Tonino Perna responded to the accusations that led to his arrest on Monday.

Charged with criminal bankruptcy and tax evasion, Perna on Wednesday faced judge Roberta D’Onofrio of the Court of Isernia, Italy, home to manufacturing company Ittierre SpA and the now-defunct parent company IT Holding SpA. Perna is accused of using 61 million euros, or $77.6 million at current exchange, of funds meant for IT Holding for other purposes, including allegedly for his personal real estate.

According to a well-placed source, the line of defense presented by Perna’s lawyer, Marco Franco, aims at showing how elements independent from Perna’s were responsible for the outcome of the entrepreneur’s financial operations and that the charges are “unfounded.” Franco also means to prove that the funds were “moved within the same group,” and not for Perna’s personal gain and that his actions were always in the interest of the company. For this reason, it is understood Franco planned to appeal for the release of the executive and of his personal assets, including exclusive villas in Rome, Capri and Sardinia, valued at around 20 million euros, or $25.4 million. Perna was jailed as a precaution to avoid his tampering with evidence and the recurrence of crime, said a legal source.

The interrogation was the first step in what is likely to be a drawn-out legal affair as Perna and his lawyer will have to retrace steps that, in some cases, date back more than a decade.

Perna was imprisoned on Monday and a trial appears to be the next likely step, although no court date has been set. If found guilty of the charges, he faces a prison term of three to 10 years.

As reported, according to a statement by the Court of Isernia, the investigations highlighted the “particular relevance of PA Investment,” which is headquartered in Luxembourg and of which Perna was chairman. According to the court, PA Investment, which controlled IT Holding through a 60 to 70 percent shareholding, was based in that country “to enjoy fiscal advantages” and is described as “a family safe to draw from for liquidity, even for purposes extraneous to those of the company.”

IT Holding was once one of Italy’s fastest-growing fashion firms, owning Ittierre, Gianfranco Ferré and Malo, among other brands. It also produced secondary lines for the likes of Versace, Trussardi, Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana. Following two years of government-backed bankruptcy protection, Ittierre was sold to Albisetti, and Ferré and Malo now operate under new owners, Paris Group and Evante, respectively.

The company went public in 1997 and in the early part of this century, Perna began investing in the acquisition of designer brands such as Ferré, Malo and Romeo Gigli. Weighed down by debt, in February 2009, IT Holding entered government-backed bankruptcy protection.