Byline: Sara Gay Forden
MILAN — Girolamo (Gimmo) Etro was at home under house arrest Thursday after being released from the San Vittore jail here late Wednesday, his lawyer confirmed.
Etro was arrested for paying a bribe of $321,000 (500 million lire) to a tax official in exchange for a lenient audit of the luxury goods firm he heads.
“He explained what happened — he was forced to pay,” said Massimo Noia, Etro’s lawyer, adding that he thought Etro would also be freed from house arrest in a few days. “We’re really hoping he will be out in time to be at his own show, so he can participate in what he created,” said Ippolito Etro, one of Gimmo Etro’s three sons — all of whom are involved in the business — and financial and administrative director for the family-owned company. Etro is slated to show its collection Sunday as part of fashion week.
Meanwhile, Etro’s accountant, Franco Eller Vainicher, was arrested and interrogated Thursday morning, and placed under house arrest in the afternoon in connection with the bribe.
The arrests were part of a massive probe into corruption among Italy’s tax officials by investigating magistrates here.
Although details of the probe are still under wraps, it appears that corrupt officials of SECIT, the elite corps of tax controllers, deliberately targeted profitable fashion companies for audits.
The audits were then carried out by local tax officials or officers of the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s national tax police, who subsequently split bribes with SECIT officials, according to sources.
The timing of the investigation — just before the designer collections, which start here Saturday — has stirred bitterness in the fashion community, especially since all the designers questioned in the probe claim they were extorted by tax men.
“The fact is that [tax officials] asked for the money,” said Ippolito Etro, adding that his father “didn’t want to pay it, and in the end he was forced to pay. This is extortion.”
Having paid off the tax officials, the firm didn’t get any fiscal benefit or a more lenient audit, he claimed: “The payment that was made did not give the company or the people running the company any advantages.”
Despite the shock of the arrest and the unpleasantness of the situation, Etro had praise for the work the investigating magistrates are carrying out: “Maybe they don’t have time to be subtle or nice, but these people are working 24 hours out of 24 hours, and the civil order that is coming from these changes is going to make it much better to live and work in this country.”