Genoa - It’s exactly 1pm. The super-yacht ‘Force Blue’ is sailing in the Ionian Sea off the Greek island of Zakynthos, Flavio Briatore is not available, but away from Genoa ‘on business’. Meanwhile, Genoa District court has sentenced him to one year and eleven months for tax evasion (it’s a suspended sentence, so he will not have to serve it). The charges stem from his alleged tinkering with tax charges, maintaining he was simply a charterer of the yacht, a 60 metre luxury yacht with gym, movie theatre and sauna on board. On 20 May 2010, in waters off La Spezia, the yacht was impounded; something the businessman had not expected, nor had his lawyers.
The wire taps
His confidence stemmed from the fact that, in court, he had strongly asserted that the owner of the boat, Autumn Sailing Ltd was a bona fide yacht leasing company; in short, there were multiple users hence the VAT rebates (to the tune of over 3.5 million) and the exemptions from fuel surcharges he enjoyed were legitimate. The judges apparently, thought differently. Together with Mr. Briatore, Dominique Warluzel, top manager at Autumn Sailings, and the yacht’s skipper, Ferdinando Tarquini, were also sentenced. A fourth person was also implicated, Maria Pia De Fusco, also at the yacht company, was fined €7 million. She was the only defendant present at the sentencing. What fate awaits ‘Force Blue’? Should the verdict be confirmed in higher court, it will become property of the State, as it’s been subject to seizure by prosecutors. Until now, the yacht, although under seizure, had been released and the earnings it made from charters served to pay court expenses and crew salaries. Let’s not forget, however, that ‘affair Briatore’ was not simply a story of suspected tax evasion. Since the raid by the tax police to seize the yacht, five years ago, while his wife, Elisabetta Gregoraci and son Nathan Falco were on board, the former F1 team manager has seen the Genoese investigation as a personal battle. Wire taps on him revealed how he complained of warrants to Silvio Berlusconi, who at one point assured him that he would send inspectors to Genoa. What’s more, during the course of the investigation, Briatore’s phone often dialed Daniela Santanché’s number. On record are Ms. Santanche’s dim views on ‘Silvio’, who was organizing lavish parties, following the ‘bunga-bunga’ scandal; Briatore would chime in, in a disheartened tone: “I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, if I were him, but not for the tr... it’s the country’s problems, the economic crisis, immigration...”The prosecutors were seeking a four year sentence
The wire tap records were not served in the case tried in Genoa, they were not considered to be of use; but they were sent over to Milan, to add to the volumes of depositions in the Rubygate trial of Mr. Berlusconi. By mid 2012, postponements to the indictment (February 2014) and courtroom brawls took place; these often took the form of the prosecutors, Walter Cotugno and Patrizia Petruzziello, arguing that Briatore had betrayed himself in the past with a compromising email to his legal counsel, and Briatore, accounts in hand, shooting back how ‘Blue Force’ was, essentially, shared property, a commercial ‘undertaking’. The court disagreed. And, although some of the charges will not stick to Mr. Briatore, definitively, the fraud charge - for which prosecutors had asked for four years - will disappear, he has received a sentence of half that for tax evasion.