Wanted Parmalat executive insists he is 'no bin Laden'

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The Independent Online

A senior executive of Parmalat wanted for questioning in connection with the collapse of the Italian milk products company has vowed to return home to face the music, saying he is "no Osama bin Laden".

As interim managers prepared to ask creditor banks for more funds to keep Parmalat's factories open, Giovanni Bonici, head of Parmalat's Venezuelan operations, said he had nothing to hide and had not "run away".

The only reason he had not already returned to Italy was because he needed to tie up some remaining business issues before leaving South America.

Mr Bonici is the only one of seven Parmalat executives wanted for questioning over the collapse still at liberty. "As you can see, I am no bin Laden", he told the business newspaper Il Sore 24 Ore. "I know nothing about Ecuador. But as far as Venezuela is concerned, I can say it is the last place in the world where you would hide the money."

In an apparent attempt to distance himself from those who instigated the fraud, Mr Bonici said: "I am only a soldier - I obey." Calisto Tanzi, Parmalat's founder, has admitted funnelling more than €500m (£350m) into private family investments, including a number of travel companies in South America.

Meanwhile, interim managers were preparing to ask Parmalat's main creditor banks - including Capitalia, Intesea, and San Paolo IMI - for a further €50m in emergency loans.

Parmalat has already been advanced an additional €25m to avoid default on a bond issue. The new facility is to pay wages and keep factories open. Enrico Bondi, the turnaround expert now running Parmalat, expects to meet bankers to discuss the new loans today.

In the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Bank of America had been negligent, reckless or misleading in the way it marketed Parmalat bonds to investors. Parmalat has issued bonds with a face value of $7bn (£3.9.bn) to the public, nearly half of which are thought to be have bought by US investors.

Mr Tanzi is being held under arrest, along with five other Parmalat executives and two partners of the accounting firm Grant Thornton, in Milan's notorious San Vittore prison.

However, his predicament is eased by the fact that he has his own cell, complete with private shower and a small camping stove for cooking. His doctor, Livio Dei Cas, reports Mr Tanzi as being "very, very low".