Pavarotti to defend himself in court over £13m tax-dodging allegations

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The Independent Culture

Recent performances by the giant of the opera world, Luciano Pavarotti, have been far from sell-outs, but this week's show in the central Italian town of Modena is guaranteed to draw a full house.

In the uncomfortable starring role of humble Italian citizen, the internationally re-nowned tenor Signor Luciano Pavarotti will face charges of dodging taxes to the tune of £13m. Fellow cast members in the courtroom drama are expected to include Mr Pavarotti's lover and former secretary Nicoletta Mantovani, his managers, doctors and a dietician.

Prosecutors in Modena, Mr Pavarotti's birthplace argue that from 1989 until 1995, when his career was at its peak, he avoided tax of 40 billion lire (£13m). Audits by the Guardia di Finanza, Italy's financial police, show that in 1991 he declared a mere 3m lire (£1,000) of earnings from rent, against an estimated annual revenue of seven billion lire.

Big Luciano has always argued that he is not liable for tax because his primary residence is in Monte Carlo and he pays taxes in the countries where he performs. The prosecution argues that the base of his musical empire, as well as a £3m estate, an equestrian complex and a seaside home, are firmly rooted in Italian territory.

This week's trial, originally due to start in May, is likely to reveal embarrassing details of Mr Pavarotti's personal life, from health farm visits to medical problems to mobile phone use.

The tenor is due to appear in person to argue his own defence. He no doubt hopes a forceful performance will swing his case in his favour. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to three years.

The announcement earlier this year that Mr Pavarotti was being prosecuted came as a shock. The tenor, whose duets with pop stars have offended purists and opera critics, had thought the damaging saga of his alleged tax irregularities had already been settled.

Last year he reached a deal with the Finance Ministry whereby he would pay back half of the contested sum, £6.5m, by instalments. But while that put him in the clear on an administrative level and gave a nice boost to state coffers, tax evasion is still a crime and public prosecutors in Modena ordered his trial.

What is not known is whether the prosecution or defence will call as a witness Adua Veroni, Mr Pavarotti's ex-wife who was closely involved in the business side of his career. The two have yet to reach a financial settlement after the end of their marriage.