Sun, Jan 11, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Bonlat chief jailed, probe widens

HECTIC DEVELOPMENTS As Italian law enforcement officials searched the Milan branch of the Bank of America, the head of a Parmalat subsidiary turned himself in

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

As Italian revenue guards searched through Bank of America's (BoA) offices in Milan for clues to the fate of billions of euros missing from the global food group Parmalat, the head of a subsidiary at the root of the scandal returned to Italy on Friday and was put in jail.

On a day of hectic developments, Stefano Tanzi, the son of Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi, also resigned from the chairmanship of Parma football club, which is 99 percent owned by the food group.

Giovanni Bonici, who returned to Italy yesterday, ran another subsidiary, Bonlat, registered in the Cayman Islands. The first solid indication of something hugely wrong with Parmalat's accounts came last month, when it admitted Bonlat did not have 4 billion euros it had claimed was deposited with Bank of America. The bank said a letter guaranteeing the money had been forged.

Bonici, who is also head of Parmalat's Venezuelan subsidiary, has been wanted by police since New Year's Eve. His lawyers said his failure to return immediately to Italy was because of a lack of available flights. He got back to Parma after a journey that took him to Paris and Nice. On Thursday, Venezuela's trade minister, Wilmar Castro, said he had first flown to the Cayman Islands.

The search of Bank of America's Italian headquarters was led by one of the three Milanese prosecutors investigating Parmalat's affairs for evidence of market rigging and other fraud.

On Thursday, a former BoA employee was formally made a suspect. Nobody has yet been charged in relation to either of the two investigations.

Tanzi's departure, along with that of the entire board of Parma football club, will clear the way for measures to keep the club afloat.

The Serie A (Italy's top soccer league) side had losses of 77 million euros even before the scandal broke.

Executives of the club had been hoping for a fresh capital injection, but on Thursday Italy's industry minister, Antonio Marzano, revealed that he had given Parmalat's new management the go-ahead to sell up to three players instead.

It is hoped a new buyer can be found. But already three Italian industrial groups, Barrilla, Smeg, and the Parma ham producers' consortium have said they are not in the market.

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