Cavalli Cleared in Tax Case

After years of drawn-out legal debates and media scrutiny, Roberto Cavalli has been fully cleared of a tax evasion.

MILAN — After years of legal debate and media scrutiny, Roberto Cavalli has been fully cleared by Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation of a tax evasion indictment.

This story first appeared in the December 1, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The country’s major court of last resort annulled the verdict issued by the Appeal Court in Florence last Jan. 21, which upheld a conviction of the designer on charges of fiscal evasion. In March 2006, the Florence court had found Cavalli guilty of tax evasion and sentenced him to 14 months in prison, although an Italian legal technicality exempted the designer from ever serving jail time.

“I’m very pleased,” Cavalli said in an interview. “As anyone who has lived in Italy long enough knows, it sadly happens often that people in the limelight are attacked for personal reasons and falsely accused, and things are only checked at a later date.”

The accusations date back to 2002, when tax authorities claimed Cavalli evaded fiscal responsibilities by trying to put about 5 billion lire, or $3.2 million at current exchange rates, of renovations to his luxurious Tuscan villa on his company’s books. In 2003, the designer rejected a plea bargain offer, saying he intended to prove his innocence.

Roberto Cavalli SpA dismissed the charges, saying the firm commissioned all of the work done on the house.

Cavalli started living in what is considered one of the biggest properties in Florence in the early Seventies. The company stated the designer’s 12th century estate — filled with antique wooden Madonna statues, marble reproductions of horses and precious animal-print rugs, and including a helipad and two swimming pools — also serves as his headquarters.

The designer has over the years held special events and product launches at the estate, including the unveiling of his eyewear line licensed to Marcolin and the presentation of his collaboration with H&M. A number of ad campaigns have also been photographed on the estate and in the villa’s park, which has a view over Florence.

“This has been a painful journey, but we were always convinced of being in the right,” said Cristiana Cavalli, daughter of the designer and president of the company. “We have shown that there were never fictitious activities or expenses.”

Cavalli is not the first designer to battle Italian tax authorities. Earlier this year, Italian authorities opened a criminal investigation into the Dolce & Gabbana fashion group following allegations of tax evasion. Gianfranco Ferré, Santo Versace, Mariuccia Mandelli of Krizia and their business associates were indicted in July 1995 on charges of corruption and bribing tax police in return for swift, trouble-free audits. While the designers were originally found guilty, a higher court overturned the verdicts and found that they were victims of extortion.

At that time, Giorgio Armani, Gerolamo Etro and Krizia chairman Aldo Pinto were also indicted on similar charges, but pleaded guilty in May 1996 before the trial began. They, too, said they were victims of extortion, but took plea bargains to end their cases as quickly as possible.