IN ITALY TAX TRIAL, EMPLOYEES SAY FERRE IN PARIS DURING PAYMENTS
Byline: Samantha Conti
MILAN — Employees of the house of Gianfranco Ferre testified Friday that the designer was out of the loop at the time Italian tax police demanded bribes from the company.
Members of Ferre’s design and administration teams told a Milan court during the trial of some of Milan’s top designers and fashion executives that in 1990, Ferre was spending the bulk of his time in Paris as chief designer for the house of Dior.
Ferre’s lawyer, Nicola Bonuomo, even produced records of Ferre’s extended stays at the Plaza Hotel. Ferre, Krizia’s Mariuccia Mandelli and Versace chief executive officer Santo Versace are charged with paying bribes to tax police in return for favorable audits.
The designers are presenting a unified defense, arguing they were victims of harassment, and finally, extortion.
The trial revolves around sums ranging from $62,000 to $260,000 paid by the fashion companies to tax officials during a string of audits from 1989 to 1991. Ferre, Mandelli, Versace and business managers from all three houses have been charged with corruption and bribing tax authorities and are on trial together.
“In that period, he spent more time in Paris than he did in Milan,” said Laura Gila, one of Ferre’s former assistants on the signature women’s collection. “In addition, he concentrated solely and exclusively on fashion. He had nothing to do with the administration part of the business.”
Ferre began designing for Dior in 1989, and his last effort for the French house was the ready-to-wear collection shown last October.
Floriana Corbella, who works in Ferre’s administrative offices, described how the auditors made life miserable for her and her colleagues during the audit.
“Nothing made them happy. In their eyes, all our documents and records were riddled with problems. They picked and nitpicked,” Corbella said. Her testimony echoes that of Luciano Scarpetti, Ferre’s former director of administration, who said in court last December that he was systematically harassed until the company agreed to pay the bribe.
Corbella added that she and a colleague were planning to quit during the audit because they could no longer take the pressure.
After the payment of some 340 million lire — or about $200,000 — had been made, Ferre hired an accountant, Luigi Biscozzi, to ensure there were truly no problems with his account books. Biscozzi told the court: “After I finished, there was no question that the books were in order.”
Ferre’s lawyer Bonuomo said his client “will probably not testify” during the trial, because he was not in Italy during the period involved.
Marcello Guido, an accountant who worked for Mandelli at the time her company made a payment of $260,000 to tax auditors, testified on Friday that he too was harassed day and night by the auditors.
“There was an escalation of pressure, intimidation and fear. They didn’t ask for money until quite some time into the audit, but I felt the request could come at any time,” he said.
Prosecutor Elio Ramondini asked him why he didn’t go straight to the police. Guido responded: “I was an outside consultant, it was not my responsibility. I couldn’t take that kind of risk.”
Last month Mandelli testified that she fought until the bitter end not to pay the tax police, but they were threatening to extend their audit to her factories during the crucial delivery season, and she was forced to put her business first.