Italy's tax police seize assets of Bulgari brothers

ROME, March 14 Thu Mar 14, 2013 12:45pm EDT

ROME, March 14 (Reuters) - Italian tax police said they seized real estate and financial assets worth more than 46 million euros ($59.6 million) from the two former majority owners of luxury jewellery firm Bulgari as part of an investigation into tax evasion.

Brothers Paolo and Nicola Bulgari are alleged to have evaded taxes on dividends and to have created units in Ireland and the Netherlands that allowed the company to conceal around 3 billion euros in revenue between 2006 and 2011, the tax police said on Thursday.

Bulgari said in a statement, however, that the foreign units "that were defined as fictive are real and genuine companies performing an undisputable strategic role for the group and employing about 300 employees".

It added, "The claims that are made are unfounded, which will be demonstrated before the competent authorities."

Bulgari said the individuals involved in the investigation would not comment.

The Bulgari brothers are the latest to be investigated as the government steps up checks on alleged tax evaders amid an fiscal austerity drive. Fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana went on trial for alleged tax evasion in December.

Among the assets seized from the Bulgaris were buildings on Rome's famous shopping street via Condotti, although not the company's flagship store there, tax police said.

In 2011 French luxury house LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA acquired Bulgari in a deal in which the Bulgari brothers obtained minority stakes in LVMH.

Francesco Trapani, president of the LVMH watches and jewellery division, and Maurizio Valentini, Bulgari's senior director for Europe and Middle East finance and administration, are also under investigation by Italian prosecutors, the tax police said.

LVMH declined to comment on the news.