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Briatore indicted for dodging duties on yacht fuel

Ex-F1 boss's 20-mn-euro vessel seized off Genoa in 2010

13 February, 14:38
Briatore indicted for dodging duties on yacht fuel (ANSA) - Genoa, February 13 - Former Formula One motor racing boss Flavio Briatore was indicted Thursday for allegedly dodging millions of euros in European Union duty on fuel for a luxury yacht.

Prosecutors claim Briatore, one of Italy's best-known and successful businessmen, evaded VAT and other levies to the tune of five million euros. The billionaire ex-playboy, a close friend of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, the owner of a string of VIP nightclubs as well as former co-owner of the Queens Park Rangers soccer club, and the host of the Italian version of the hit show The Apprentice, denies the charges.

The 62-metre Cayman Islands-flagged yacht, Force Blue, was seized by Italian tax police on the Italian Riviera near Genoa in May 2010.

Briatore, then 61, was not on the 20-million-euro vessel when they boarded but his wife, Elisabetta Gregoraci, then 28, and then two-month-old son Falcon Nathan were.

The flamboyant tycoon criticised police for exposing his wife and child to "an unnecessary and attention-grabbing police operation". Briatore, former boss of F1 team Renault, is alleged to have been the main user of the yacht in EU waters, although he claimed he mainly rented it out to others.

The three successive heads of the British Virgin Islands company that owns the yacht, Autumn Sailing Limited, were also indicted along with the boat's captain.

According to police who monitored the yacht's movements for over a year, Briatore and the company, may be liable for more than half a million euros in unpaid fuel duties.

According to EU regulations, police said, yachts registered outside the EU may only avoid paying duty if they leave EU waters within eight hours of refuelling.

Briatore and the yacht's owners are also liable for about four million euros in unpaid VAT on the yacht's value, police said.

The ex-Renault boss, who was banned from Formula One in 2009 for ordering a driver to crash in 2008, claims the yacht, which has a crew of 17 and sleeps 12, can be hired for 300,000 euros a week and is legitimately registered in the Cayman Islands tax reasons.

But prosecutors say it is not chartered and that the family spend much of the year on board. The yacht, bought in 2002, was seized because of "fears further crimes might be committed", according to papers served by customs and excise. Briatore, who bought the Force Blue in 2002, has been in the gossip mags for years because of a string of supermodel girlfriends and a glamorous lifestyle centred on his feted Sardinian nightclub The Billionaire.

When his life ban from F1 was cut to a shorter one that expired last year, he said he was not interested in returning to motor racing, saying he wanted to focus on building up his chain of resorts and luxury night spots in Italy and Africa.

Long-time bachelor Briatore, now 64, wed Gregoraci, now 31, in a 12th-century basilica in Rome in June 2008 after a two-year courtship.

Their son Nathan is three now.

He already had a daughter, Leni, now seven, by supermodel Heidi Klum, although he is not believed to play an active part in her life.

Briatore .

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