Final discussions between Flavio Becca and his lawyers, before his first appearance before the criminal court. Photo: Maison Moderne
On Tuesday, Flavio Becca appeared before the criminal court for the first of a six-day trial for abuse of company assets and money laundering. The court is interested in 840 luxury watches found at his home in 2011 during a search.
The entrepreneur is used to court battles, and the idea of, for the first time, risking one to five years in prison and a fine of up to €1.25m, did not seem to intimidate Becca during the court session.
A little over nine years ago, on 20 September 2011, police arrived at his home-–"owned by Promobe and rented by me," he explained–-for a search. Promobe is Becca's property business, among other projects a key developer of the new Cloche d'Or district.
Luxembourg Inland Revenue (ACD) had previously detected a large number of "precious objects" in the balance sheets of a number of Becca's companies. In his basement, investigators discovered a safe containing 670 watches, said Jean-Paul Bohler, the now retired senior investigator, describing the safe as large, not the kind you would find in a hotel room.
Watches organised by brand and type
"This is the only place where I can store watches of this value, thanks to the safe," said Becca during his remarks. "With an armoured door. I suffered a burglary three or four years ago," the Italian-born entrepreneur added.
The watches were stored on trays and not in their original packaging, although this had been kept. "There are collectors who want to get the original packaging back," said Becca. The bills were stacked elsewhere.
Investigators had all the trouble in the world associating a watch with a box and an invoice, said the chief investigator. The police decided to turn to the ten largest suppliers of these prestigious watches to help them, without much success. Further complicating matter, Becca's accountant regularly insisted that the watches should not be on the invoice, which simply list a purchase.
200 watches as a gift to family
Investigators discovered that more than 200 watches were missing. Becca explained that he gave them to loved ones. The court won't ask for these watches to be recovered after the entrepreneur and his lawyer at the time, André Lutgen, delivered an inventory to the police.
The court will have to determine whether the watches were purchased through the financial means of Becca's companies. The businesses in question have since disappeared as part of a restructuring of his group in 2010. This would constitute an abuse of corporate assets and therefore of money laundering and withholding since the watches were at Becca’s home.
"First, I would like to ask you to clearly distinguish between watches purchased in my own name and those, around 300, for Promobe Finance," Becca said, adding that he preferred to speculate on the rise in the price of watches rather than on that of paintings, like other companies did.
Parisian hotshot lawyer intervenes
Why go through corporate accounts to buy these watches? In order to be able to make group purchases and obtain a better discount, on the one hand, and to be able to take advantage of a lower Luxembourg VAT rate than that of the countries in which he had bought some of these watches.
"How many did you buy with your own money?" the judge asked. To which Becca replied that he couldn’t remember.
How is it possible to differentiate between watches purchased on a personal basis and those that are part of a corporate wealth investment scheme? "They were arranged by brand and by tray," Becca replied without really answering.
Becca's lawyer, Hervé Temime--who has also represented Bernard Tapie, Roman Polanski, Gérard Depardieu or Alain Afflelou--grilled the investigator.
"Do you remember the exact terms of the declaration to the Luxembourg Inland Revenue?
Do you remember the time span between this declaration and the redress of these companies?
Why didn’t you simplify things by associating each watch with each box and each certificate?
It was impossible to find.
How could suppliers have done their own work, then?
It’s not like when you buy a BMW and the manufacturer has the chassis number and all the information."
The salvo was polite, calm, but it did point out the main difficulty that the judges will face: determining which pocket the money used to acquire this collection at €18m came from. Do the interest-based repayments that Becca has already made exonerate him from a possible conviction for abuse of company assets? The trial will get to the bottom of this problem on Wednesday afternoon.
In the back of the room, the defendant’s sworn enemy sent his men to follow the trial. Eric Lux, a civil party to the trial via the Olos fund--which the two men are fighting over--also attempted, through the former president of the bar, Rosario Grasso, to be a civil party for his holding company Ikodomos, as a result of moral harm. The Olos fund hold real estate assets by both Becca and Lux which they have been fighting over for around five years.
This article was originally published in French on Paperjam.lu and translated and edited for Delano.