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Thursday, Mar 30, 2023

Hong Kong judge acquits former Dolce & Gabbana president of receiving kickbacks

Hong Kong judge acquits former Dolce & Gabbana president of receiving kickbacks

Judge says authenticity of evidence cannot be established because key witness did not testify.

The former president of high fashion house Dolce & Gabbana Hong Kong went free from court after he was cleared of accepting kickbacks worth HK$1.7 million (US$217,119) because the authenticity of incriminating evidence could not be established as a key witness was absent.

Michel Gonzalez, then president of the Italy-based company’s presence in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific region, was accused of receiving illegal rebates from an intermediary company.

It was alleged he received the money for arranging season-end products worth HK$12.6 million to be sold to an online discount retailer in mainland China between 2013 and 2016.

The 57-year-old pleaded not guilty at the District Court to a charge of conspiracy for an agent to accept advantages.

Franco Jiang Jiafeng, 45, the major shareholder of the now-closed intermediary Imoda (HK), also denied the same corruption charge.

Franco Jiang leaves Kowloon City Court after his acquittal.

Deputy District Judge Jacky Ip Kai-leung, who delivered his verdict on Monday, held that Gonzalez had requested commission fees from Imoda (HK) by highlighting three invoices the intermediary received from Real Team International Group, a private company co-owned by the former D&G Hong Kong president and his wife.

But the court found insufficient evidence to show the HK$1.7 million Imoda (HK) paid to Gonzalez came from the mainland online discount retailer Vipshop (China) and that Gonzalez and Jiang had conspired to accept the latter’s payoffs.

The prosecution’s case was primarily founded on nine documents said to have shown the intermediary agreement between Vipshop and Imoda (HK) over soliciting the purchase of certain products and the transactions made between Vipshop, Imoda (HK) and Gonzalez’s private firm.

The deputy judge said the truthfulness of many of the articles was in doubt because Lin Mingkai, then a shareholder of Imoda (HK) who had direct knowledge of the intermediary’s business dealings, failed to testify in last year’s trial.

The witness from mainland China was said to be in Guangdong province when he agreed to assist the city’s Independent Commission Against Corruption in the case, but lost contact with investigators before the trial started, the court heard.

Ip said he was unable to ascertain whether the running account records of Imoda (HK), which did not contain a single signature or name of the people involved, were genuine.

The court also could not be sure what Imoda (HK) agreed to solicit on behalf of Vipshop, as shown on the purported intermediary agreement, were Dolce & Gabbana products.

“The closed transactions between Vipshop and Imoda (HK), and between Imoda (HK) and Real Team, made [Gonzalez] and [Jiang] very suspicious,” Ip said.

“However, the missing witness Mr Lin, the original key witness in the current case, did not testify in court, and [the disputed documents] could not be taken as truthful statements.”

The deputy judge emphasised his decision to acquit the two defendants “should never be interpreted as the court’s approval or a condonation of” their dealings.

Conspiracy for an agent to accept advantages is punishable by up to seven years in jail and a HK$500,000 fine.


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