Olivetti boss De Benedetti sentenced to jail in fraud trial

MILAN, Italy -- A Milan court sentenced Italian industrialist Carlo De Benedetti and 32 other defendants to jail terms Thursday on charges of fraudulent bankruptcy in connection with the 1982 collapse of Italy's Ambrosiano bank.

De Benedetti, chairman of the Olivetti company, one of Europe's biggest computer manufacturers, drew a sentence of six years and four months, two months longer than the prosecutor had requested.


The court convicted all 33 defendants, sentencing the other 32 to jail terms ranging from five years to 19 years. The 19-year sentence went to Umberto Ortolani, one of several leading leading members of the outlawed P2 Masonic Lodge accused in the scheme.

The P2 Lodge, which included prominent politicians, military officers, businessmen and journalists among its members, was banned in 1981 when a parliamentary commission found it guilty of plotting against the state.

Others convicted Thursday included Licio Gelli, former grand maestro of the P2 lodge, who drew the second biggest sentence of 18 years and six months and big names in Italian industry, finance and banking management.

Under Italian law, none of the defendants will go to jail until the full process is completed with verdicts by the Appeals Court and finally the Court of Cassation, Italy's highest court.


A court ban on all those convicted from managing companies for 10 years also will not take effect until the legal process is completed.

Defense lawyers immediately announced they would appeal the verdicts.

De Benedetti has always denied any involvement in the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in August, 1982, Italy's biggest postwar banking scandal. The bank went bankrupt with $1.3 billion in debts.

De Benedetti was deputy chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano for only 65 days between November 1981 and January 1982, when he sold his small stake in the bank.

'My total innocence has been recognized in these past 10 years in more than one court,' De Benedetti said last month.

But State Prosecutor Pierluigi Dell'Osso told the court, 'De Benedetti was fully aware of the serious difficulties the bank was in.'

De Benedetti claimed he was forced to leave the Banco Ambrosiano by its late president Roberto Calvi because he criticized Calvi's methods of management.

Calvi, dubbed 'God's banker' by the press for his connections with Vatican Bank -- the Institute for Religious Works (IOR) -- fled Italy in June 1982 and later that month he was found hanging by the neck from scaffolding under London's Blackfriars river Thames bridge.


A London coroner's court at first ruled it was suicide, but a later hearing returned an open verdict -- leaving open the possibility that Calvi was murdered. The mystery has never been solved.

Thursday's verdicts climaxed a trial that was spread over nearly two years and which was preceded by eight years of investigation.

De Benedetti and most of the other big-name defendants were not in court when Presiding Judge Fabrizio Poppi read the sentences.

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