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ITALY: Italy judge sentences 11 to jail in Parmalat case

by Clara Ferreira-Marques and Emilio ParodiReuters
June 28th, 2005

  A Milan judge sentenced 10 former Parmalat executives and a lawyer to jail on Tuesday in the first guilty ruling over the 14-billion-euro (9.3-billion-pound) collapse of Italy's biggest listed food group, judicial sources said.

Judge Cesare Tacconi sentenced the 11 men, including Fausto Tonna, one of Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi's closest associates, to up to two and a half years in jail for crimes including market rigging and obstructing regulators.

However, none of the convicted were expected to serve time in prison as a result of Tuesday's ruling, despite their role in Parmalat's collapse in 2003 in one of Europe's biggest financial scandals.

The sentences stemmed from a plea-bargain agreement with authorities that means the 11 convicted will not have to stand criminal trial in Milan.

But they could still be indicted in Parma, near Parmalat's headquarters, where a wider investigation into dozens of suspects is underway.

The executives convicted on Tuesday included former chief financial officer Alberto Ferraris, internal auditors and Tanzi's brother and son, the judicial sources told Reuters.

As Italian law waives jail terms for first-time offenders sentenced to no more than 2 years, eight of the 11 convicted were granted suspended sentences and will not be required to serve time in prison.

Tonna, a former CFO who was sentenced to 2 1/2 years, spent several months in detention in 2004 and was expected to be allowed to work with social services instead of returning to jail, judicial sources said.

Lawyer Gian Paolo Zini, sentenced to 2 years, and former CFO Luciano Del Soldato, sentenced to a year and 10 months, were also expected to work with social services in a bid to reduce any jail sentences they might receive in other criminal trials into the Parmalat scandal, lawyers said.

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One of Italy's best-known global brands, Parmalat stunned investors when it disclosed a 4-billion-euro hole in its accounts in December 2003.

It has since been placed under administration, led by turnaround veteran Enrico Bondi, and has slimmed down operations. From Tuesday until the end of August, Parmalat creditors will vote on a 12 billion euro debt-for-equity swap at the heart of Bondi's plan.

Parmalat plans to relist on the bourse after the summer.

Prosecutors had said Tonna, a former CFO and a central figure in the inquiry, was the architect of Parmalat's web of holdings. He quit nine months before Parmalat's collapse and was replaced in quick succession by Ferraris and Del Soldato.

Lawyers have said the Milan plea-bargaining deal could help the accused concentrate on the investigation in Parma, where a separate team of prosecutors is looking into possible fraudulent bankruptcy, which carries a heavier potential jail sentence.

Calisto Tanzi had also asked to plea bargain, but his request was rejected by prosecutors and on Saturday he was sent to trial along with 15 other executives, auditors Deloitte & Touche and the former Italian arm of Grant Thornton.

Bank of America will go to trial in Milan as a civil party, as the employer of three of those indicted. It has not been sent to trial over its administrative responsibility as a firm.

Bank of America and Deloitte have denied wrongdoing. Grant Thornton severed links with its Italian arm in the aftermath of Parmalat's collapse.

Prosecutors have been investigating suspected financial crimes since Parmalat, once one of Italy's biggest industrial groups, crumbled under the weight of billions of euros of debt.





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