Bulgari’s Billion-Dollar Family Feud

The Bulgari family in 2009. The daughters are now embroiled in an intrafamily legal fight.
The Bulgari family in 2009. The daughters are now embroiled in an intrafamily legal fight. Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
January 30, 2023

Have you heard about the family drama dividing the Bulgari fashion empire? It’s an insane legal fight between two sisters, which has engulfed at least a half dozen top law firms and huge Wall Street players. Naturally, the feared litigator David Boies is involved. And now, of course, there’s a secret marriage twist.

Back in 2020, Ilaria Bulgari learned that she was the beneficiary of two trusts that had been established during her parents’ long-ago divorce. The trusts contained substantial assets, which shouldn’t be surprising given the incredible success of the nearly 150-year-old luxury brand. (In 2011, the Bulgari family sold a controlling stake of its company to LVMH in an all-stock deal worth more than $5 billion.) But Ilaria, despite receiving $40 million after her mother died, began to suspect her older sister, Veronica Bulgari, of cheating her. 

In legal documents, Ilaria outlines her various grievances with Veronica, the trustee of the family estate: that she allegedly withheld distributions from the trust to compel her to surrender rights; that she refused to give her full access to financial records said to contain “irregularities” like missing tax payments; and finally, that Veronica was behind the transfer of money and real estate holdings. Ilaria eventually hired Boies, who blanketed Wall Street with subpoenas to find out more about the administration of the Bulgari fortune.

Veronica’s attorneys, reacting to this escalation, suspiciously eyed the younger sister’s boyfriend—Jan Edwin Boyer, an investment banker who had worked for decades at firms like Lehman, Lazard, and Softbank. Was he the instigator pulling her strings? They demanded to see his communications, presumably to get some insight into Ilaria’s thoughts and strategy.

In response, Boies asserted a wild reason why Boyer needn’t hand over documents or testify: Ilaria and Jan had shacked up with each other in Switzerland during the early days of the Covid pandemic, and their “cohabitation was the equivalent of a common law marriage.” In other words, Boyer had spousal privilege. An expert in Swiss law even submitted an opinion to support this audacious attempt to shield evidence.

On Jan. 9, a New York federal judge rejected the secret marriage theory, but nevertheless ruled that Ilaria could assert attorney-client privilege over Boyer’s communications about the trusts because his financial prowess “facilitated” the advice of her real lawyers. 

Veronica’s team at Gibson Dunn, aghast, then tried unsuccessfully to probe Boyer on everything else. Meanwhile, they’re also after a computer technician who, given unfettered access to Ilaria’s residence, found large sheets of poster paper on the walls that had things written on them like, “Sister’s lying” and “positives and ammo,” plus elaborate notes. The technician took pictures, and Gibson Dunn moved to depose the technician to authenticate the pictures, but according to new court papers, Ilaria’s lawyer scared him off by warning in a letter that he had violated the law, which the technician (now represented by Baker & McKenzie) took to be a threat. 

Now Veronica’s lawyers want a conference so they may tell the judge about how the Boies firm’s letter caused the technician to become anxious and not show up for a scheduled deposition. “Threatening a witness to turn him in for criminal conduct is witness tampering,” they wrote to the judge while suggesting that Boies should be sanctioned. When I mentioned all this drama to Boies, he just chuckled and declined to comment.