Kering, Owner of Gucci and Saint Laurent, Faces Swiss Tax Inquiry

LONDON — Swiss prosecutors said on Wednesday they had opened a criminal investigation into a tax case involving the French luxury group Kering, widening the legal scrutiny of its tax practices in Europe.

The announcement comes four months after Italian authorities began looking into Kering’s flagship brand, Gucci.

The Swiss attorney general’s office said that it had “received and acted upon” a request for assistance by the public prosecutor’s office in Milan. The Italian inquiry, which began in November and is being led by a national police force specializing in financial crimes, included a raid on Gucci offices in Florence and Milan.

At issue in the Italian case was whether profits Kering made on Gucci sales in Italy had in fact been declared in Switzerland, where tax laws is more favorable. The Italian newspaper La Stampa reported last year that the authorities were looking into whether Gucci should have paid as much as 1.3 billion euros, or $1.54 billion, in past domestic taxes.

The Swiss investigation comes less than a week after Kering, which also owns luxury brands such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Saint Laurent, had been forced to deny fresh accusations that it had more broadly failed to comply with tax laws.

France’s Mediapart and Germany’s Der Spiegel published reports recently saying that Gucci had evaded taxes that it should have paid in other countries by using its Swiss logistics center, where all of its products pass through, to bill for business actually carried out elsewhere. The reports said that Kering had reached an agreement with officials in the southern region of Ticino, where the logistics center is, that allowed it to pay a corporate tax rate of 8 percent, compared with 31 percent if it had to pay in Italy.

Last Friday, Kering said in a statement to Reuters that it had complied with Swiss tax laws and that its distribution center in Switzerland exercised “tangible business activities.’’

The Swiss attorney general’s office said Wednesday that the initial request from the Milanese prosecutors in December had focused around a former Kering manager. In a statement sent by email, it added that the assistance required had not specifically related to any tax matters.

However, the office then said that in relation to that case it had also opened “its own criminal proceedings on suspicion of, among other things, money laundering and document forgery against unknown persons.” It declined to comment further.

In some instances of tax evasion, where the proceeds are shown to have been used to fund other activities, authorities can construe this as a form of money laundering.

Kering declined to comment on the independent Swiss investigation when contacted on Wednesday. The group previously confirmed that it was collaborating with the Italian investigation, which has scrutinized the personal finances of Gucci’s chief executive, Marco Bizzarri, as well as his predecessor, Patrizio Di Marco.

Kering is the latest luxury group to find itself under scrutiny by Italian tax authorities, following a crackdown on tax evaders in recent years amid growing pressure on its public finances. Most brands chose to settle out of court; Giorgio Armani, for example, agreed to pay $373 million in 2014; Miuccia Prada and her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, paid a reported $571 million in 2013; and Bulgari settled for $78.6 million in 2015.

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