MILAN — Italy seems set for another long-running tax trial in the fashion world.
After a trial that lasted a little more than a year, Matteo Marzotto was on Wednesday found guilty of tax evasion by a Milan courthouse headed by Judge Orsola de Cristofaro — but the young entrepreneur immediately vowed to fight back. Marzotto plans to appeal once the reasoning behind de Cristofaro’s decision is deposited and issued a statement reiterating his innocence.
“We were always confident that our defense in the trial would, sooner or later…highlight our innocence and for this we had at the time declined any idea of a plea bargain,” said Marzotto.
Marzotto, along with his sister Diamante Marzotto and real estate entrepreneur and broker Massimo Caputi, were sentenced to 10 months and the payment of the expenses for the trial, but the judge suspended the punishment because of extenuating circumstances — the fact that the Marzottos have no criminal record and that they paid their fiscal debt (in Italy, fiscal and penal trials are independent). The judge also ordered Marzotto properties that had been sequestered to be returned to their owners in 90 days.
After retiring to the council chamber for 30 minutes, de Cristofaro quickly delivered the verdict to a room that had gone suddenly dark as the lights unexpectedly went off. The defendants, indicted for alleged omission of earnings declaration and tax evasion, were not present in court and only a handful of reporters quietly jotted down the sentence.
After de Cristofaro left the room, the defendants’ lawyer Paolo De Capitani, with his colleague Alessandra Mereu, did not hide their surprise and disappointment and told WWD they had expected an acquittal. “We remain firmly convinced of [the defendants’] innocence and this will be seen with the final verdict at the next [court] levels,” said De Capitani. “We need to wait for the motivations, which we have trouble imagining, [to be deposited] in 90 days and then we will appeal.”
An appeal can be filed 45 days after the motivations are released. De Capitani continued: “This is not the first time that innocent [individuals] are found guilty at the first court level and then acquitted with a final and definitive sentence.”
In his statement, Marzotto said: “We were always convinced that the accusations were unfounded and this clearly emerged during the hearings: all the paperwork and all the witnesses, called by the prosecutor as well as by our lawyers, always confirmed that we were entirely uninvolved in the facts. For this reason, the Milan courthouse verdict surprises us and we have trouble understanding how two minority shareholders who never took part in the management of the company can be considered guilty of a crime that could have been potentially committed by the administrators.”
Marzotto took the time to also defend his sister Diamante. “It’s been proven, with documents and witnesses, how uninvolved in the facts she was, as she has always taken care of her family for all her life, without taking any interest in the management of the companies,” he said.
Without naming Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce, Marzotto hinted at their lengthy tax case and their final acquittal in 2014 after six years. “One is guilty only after a definitive sentence and this is only the first level, as happened in other well-known cases that the prosecutor himself recalled during the trial and for whom the Supreme Court finally ruled out any charge. We will read the motivations and we will defend ourselves by appealing. It is certain, however, that it becomes difficult to combine being an entrepreneur and investments in this context.”
After selling his stake in the Vionnet brand and holding a position as president of Enit, Italy’s national agency for tourism, Marzotto is now president of Fiera di Vicenza, which organizes a range of trade shows, including jewelry fair VicenzaOro.
The allegations involve the Marzotto family’s association with the sale of Valentino Fashion Group to private equity fund Permira in May 2007 for more than 782 million euros, or $872.5 million at current exchange. According to the indictment, taxes on the profit derived from the transaction were never paid in Italy. Core to the trial was International Capital Growth, a firm the tax police believe to be a fictitious entity based in Luxembourg and managed in Milan, and allegedly created for the purpose of selling 29.9 percent of VFG. Caputi was the broker for ICG.
The defendants’ lawyers had asked the judge to acquit their clients, contending that there was no case to answer. Prosecutor Gaetano Ruta, who was not in court on Wednesday, was seeking one year and four months in prison for the Marzottos and Caputi.
After two earlier delays in 2014, the trial got underway in November 2014.
In April 2013, Milan’s prosecutors’ office notified 13 individuals of the Marzotto Group, including members of the Marzotto family and administrators of the company, for alleged omission of earnings declaration and tax evasion of more than 71 million euros, or $79.2 million. Among the individuals notified at the time, in addition to Matteo and Diamante Marzotto, were Vittorio, Margherita, Maria Rosaria and Cristiana Marzotto and Andrea, Isabella and Rosanna Donà Dalle Rose. All those charged have denied the accusations. The group in May that year — including Matteo Marzotto — paid a sum of around 56 million euros, or $72 million at current exchange, to the Agenzia delle Entrate, Italy’s internal revenue service.
According to the allegations, ICG allowed the accused to net a capital gain of 200 million euros, or $223.1 million, and elude the payment of more than 71 million euros in tax, the police claim.
Matteo Marzotto’s lawyers throughout the trial repeated the defendant’s unwillingness to sell the Valentino brand in an attempt to underscore how removed he was from any tax evasion plan. “Matteo Marzotto is totally absent from ICG, there are no signatures, no mails,” said Mereu earlier this month. “The only episode is a letter from Nov. 28, 2006, from the administrator of ICG chastising Matteo about speaking up against the sale, urging him to avoid expressing his thoughts and reminding him that only the administrators were allowed to speak for ICG,” the lawyer said.
Marzotto in his statement also underscored this issue. “In addition, it was proven during the trial with national and international press articles and numerous depositions — including that of the administrator of the Luxembourg company at the time — that I, as then-president of Valentino, was always against the sale of the fashion house and the ensuing development of the company unfortunately proved me right. Today I am sentenced for an operation, the sale of Valentino, to which I was opposed with all my strength, since my only intent in acquiring the shares of ICG was to consolidate control and to thus avoid the hostile takeovers that were emerging from different fronts. This is another circumstance that has been proven time and again, as it emerges from my statements at the time [before any fiscal trouble], and from the documents presented during the trial.”