GIROLAMO ETRO ARRESTED IN MILAN BRIBERY PROBE

Byline: Sara Gay Forden, with contributions from Godfrey Deeny in Paris

MILAN--In the continuing probe into bribes paid by fashion houses to Italian tax officials, Girolamo (Gimmo) Etro, chairman and owner of the Etro luxury goods firm, was arrested at dawn Wednesday on charges of corruption, police here confirmed. Etro was taken to San Vittore jail, accused of paying a kickback of $321,000 (500 million lire) to Erminio Di Carlo, an official with the Milan income tax office.
Di Carlo was also arrested and charged with accepting the bribe in exchange for a lenient audit of the company.
An Etro spokeswoman declined to elaborate on news of the arrest, saying only that "everything is under control." She indicated that Etro's attorneys were working on the case and that the company might issue a statement today. Etro's attorneys weren't immediately available for comment.
Also implicated in the alleged Etro bribe is Colonel Carlo Capitanucci, an officer with the elite SECIT tax corps. As reported, Capitanucci is already being held at a military jail near Verona for accepting other kickbacks from leading fashion houses.
Meanwhile, Celestino Cucciniello, an official in the Milan income tax office who'd been charged with taking a bribe from Giorgio Armani SpA, turned himself in to the authorities Wednesday.
At least one businessmen outside the fashion sector--a
rice manufacturer--was also arrested Wednesday as a result of the magistrates' probe into corruption in the Guardia di Finanza, Italy's paramilitary tax police.
Etro joined Gigi Monti, chairman of the now-defunct Basile house, in San Vittore. As reported, Monti was arrested last Friday, but was expected to be released after he confessed earlier this week that he was informed of a bribe paid by his company after the fact.
Although Monti denied knowing any details of the bribe, courthouse sources said his release was held up because of discrepancies in his testimony and that of former Basile managing director Nicola Di Luccio, who allegedly paid the bribe.
As reported, other leading Italian fashion figures have admitted to magistrates that their companies paid bribes to tax officials--including designers Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferré, Krizia's Mariuccia Mandelli, and executive Santo Versace. All claim to be victims of extortion by rogue tax men.
What was it like being interrogated by a magistrate?
"It wasn't a pleasure, but it certainly was not the worst thing that happened to me in my life. I have experienced much worse," said Ferré, who was in Paris Wednesday. "Signor Di Pietro [the chief interrogating magistrate] is a very intelligent man and very easy to talk to. And also, it is best that one comes clean and gets it all over with," the designer added.
Ferré predicted Di Pietro's investigation would now head south to Rome: "The people who pressured us were the SECIT, the overseers of the Guardia di Finanza. They came from Rome and did not give us much choice. Di Pietro will now go after them, I'm sure." Milan magistrates have declined to comment on details of the investigation, but it appears to be a systematic tax review of leading Italian fashion firms ordered by the SECIT.
Reportedly at Capitanucci's direction, SECIT began an evaluation of the fashion companies to establish information about average profit margins at these firms.

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