Byline: Sara Gay Forden
MILAN — The five top Italian designers who have been charged with paying bribes to tax officials aren’t expected to get their promised day in court — at least not today.
Although the designers’ trial was scheduled to begin Sept. 20, a postponement is expected, according to courthouse sources and the designers’ lawyers.
The reason is that the prosecuting magistrate, Piercamillo Davigo, is tied up with preliminary hearings in other corruption cases, including one involving former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and is planning to ask for a rescheduling, courthouse sources said.
“We’re expecting the trial to be postponed,” confirmed attorney Oreste Dominioni, who will be representing Giorgio Armani and Krizia’s Mariuccia Mandelli.
It wasn’t known at press time when the trial might be rescheduled or if a new trial date would interfere with the upcoming spring/summer ’96 collection presentations here set for Oct.5 to 12.
As reported, 25 people have been charged in the tax-bribe scandal, including Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco FerrA, Krizia’s Mariuccia Mandelli, Santo Versace and Girolamo Etro, along with tax officials and intermediaries involved in the case.
While the designers were not expected to show up for the first day of the trial, their lawyers — who must appear in court to learn whether the procedure is to be rescheduled — will be vastly outnumbered by reporters and television crews, who have been gathering here to cover what could become one of the more glamorous trials ever seen at the Milan courthouse.
As reported, the designers have banded together and are planning to stage a common defense in the trial: They maintain they were innocent victims of corrupt officials who targeted the fashion houses in an effort to line their own pockets. All of the designers have admitted to making payoffs of $62,000 to $260,000, so the legal issue won’t be the facts, but how they are interpreted.
According to the designers’ lawyers, important evidence emerged at the preliminary hearing in July indicating that the tax officials got together ahead of time and specifically targeted the fashion houses. The designers will be arguing they have been improperly charged with corruption (which carries a two-to-five-year jail sentence) and were instead victims of extortion by public officials (which carries a four-to-12-year jail term for the official). The trial is a small part of Italy’s much larger anticorruption campaign that has swept all levels of government and industry. The fashion sector had remained largely unscathed by the clean-up drive until last fall, when the designers were placed under investigation in connection with a wider probe of Italy’s fiscal police, which conduct audits and collect taxes.