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LVMH : Italy Tax Police Seize Assets in Bulgari Tax-Evasion Probe

03/14/2013 | 12:56pm US/Eastern

By Manuela Mesco

MILAN--Italy's tax police said Thursday they seized 46 million euros ($59.6 million) worth of assets owned by Bulgari's acting chief executive and its chief operating officer, and two shareholders in the luxury jewelry brand, as part of an investigation into suspected tax evasion totaling that amount.

In a statement, the tax police said the assets are owned by acting CEO Francesco Trapani, who is also head of the watch and jewelry division of controlling company LVMH Group; Paolo and Nicola Bulgari in their capacity as shareholders, who are chairman and vice chairman of Bulgari; and COO Maurizio Valentini. The tax police suspect them of being responsible for tax avoidance in Italy on a total of EUR3 billion in revenue from 2006 to 2011.

In an emailed statement Thursday Bulgari denied the allegations and said that the company will take all necessary actions to clarify its position before the authorities. The company said the four people named by police won't be speaking to the press for now and that the company's statement is also the official position of the four. Attempts to reach the people directly weren't successful.

According to the tax police, the four allegedly used ad hoc trading companies registered in countries such as Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands to pay lower taxes than would be payable under Italy's tax laws. The tax police consider the procedure irregular because the revenue was allegedly generated in Italy, and thus the tax on it should have been paid in Italy, they say.

The tax police said they have a nine-page document in which they say Bulgari executives described the moves as an "escape strategy" adopted after new Italian tax rules were introduced in 2006.

Bulgari responded in its statement that "the foreign companies at issue are real and genuine companies performing an indisputable strategic role for the group."

Bulgari, an Italian jeweler founded in 1884, was sold to LVMH Group in 2011 for EUR4.3 billion.

Write to Manuela Mesco at Manuela.mesco@dowjones.com

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