The former head of Italian food conglomerate Parmalat was sentenced to 18 years in prison and ordered to pay huge sanctions on Thursday after a massive fraud trial on a case dubbed “Europe’s Enron.”
Calisto Tanzi, 72, was not in court for the sentencing and has only served nine months between prison and house arrest since the spectacular collapse in 2003 of a company that he founded in 1961 and operated in 30 countries.
The court in Parmalat’s home town of Parma in northern Italy said Tanzi and other former executives sentenced with him will have to pay 2 billion euros (US$2.6 billion) back to the company, which has emerged from bankruptcy.
They will also have to compensate the 30,000 defrauded investors who were plaintiffs in the trial with around 30 million euros — a figure dismissed as “very disappointing” by one of the investors who attended the hearing.
Tanzi was sentenced along with 14 other former managers of Parmalat.
The prosecution had sought a 20-year sentence for Tanzi, but prosecutor Gerardo Laguardia said he was “fully satisfied” with the verdict.
Tanzi’s defense lawyer Giampiero Biancolella said his client was “not expecting such a severe sentence” and would appeal the verdict.
Tanzi has already been sentenced in a separate trial in Milan to 10 years in prison for stock market manipulation and an upcoming appeals hearing will decide whether or not he will serve time for that sentence.
Earlier rulings found that he was too old to go to prison, but the prosecution warned he could use hidden funds to flee Italy.
Reports at the time showed pictures of the luxurious villa complex near Parma in which he was living and described an extensive art collection including paintings by Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne that he had hidden away.
The Parmalat scandal seven years ago destroyed the savings of some 135,000 people, left a gaping 14 billion euro hole in the company’s finances and ruined the image of one of Italy’s leading business empires.
Among the 17 defendants who were on trial, Parmalat’s former financial director Fausto Tonna was also sentenced to 14 years in prison and Tanzi’s brother Giovanni got 10-and-a-half years. Two men were acquitted.
At the time of its collapse, Parmalat employed around 36,000 people and was a major player on the international stage.
Its many subsidiaries included the Parma soccer club and a tourism unit.
It now has around 14,000 employees in 15 countries including Australia, Canada, South Africa and in South America.
Parmalat was restructured and re-listed on the Milan stock exchange in 2005.