WPP's Italian nemesis to take battle to Sorrell

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The Independent Online

Marco Benatti, the sacked WPP country manager of Italy, will begin his battle this week to take over the company at the centre of the row with his former boss, Sir Martin Sorrell.

The board of Italian advertising agency Fullsix, which, in effect, Mr Benatti controls, is meeting to discuss his €85m (£58m) takeover offer, which he unveiled in Italy yesterday.

WPP, which owns close to 30 per cent of the company, has two directors on the board, including Daniella Weber, the chief operating officer in Italy who acted as interpreter for Mr Benatti.

But they are expected to be outvoted as the majority of Fullsix's directors have some association with Mr Benatti, who is its vice-president. Mr Benatti, who has been building up his stake in Fullsix in recent weeks, now owns 43 per cent of the company.

WPP, which also reports full year results on Friday, is expected to attempt to frustrate Mr Benatti's takeover. A spokesman said: "We remain concerned about the conflict of interests which may exist in regard to the trading relationships between Fullsix and certain WPP companies. We have asked Consob [the Italian stock market regulator] to take a close look at this situation."

WPP fired Mr Benatti last month over his role in the group's acquisition of Italian media buying firm Mediaclub in 2002. The Italian, who introduced WPP to the firm, received a finder's fee of around £140,000 and the right to future earn-outs. WPP claims that the Italian had a controlling interest in Mediaclub, which he did not declare. Mr Benatti says he owned a small stake indirectly through an investment trust.

WPP has appointed corporate sleuths Kroll to investigate further alleged conflicts of interest involving Mr Benatti. When Sir Martin appointed Mr Benatti as WPP country manager of Italy in 2002, it was agreed that he would pass all potential business, excluding digital media work, to WPP companies. But WPP now claims that Mr Benatti passed clients who came to him as its country manager to Fullsix instead.

WPP is suing Mr Benatti for "breach of fiduciary duties". Mr Benatti denies this, and is countersuing the company.

WPP will also try to refute claims made by Mr Benatti last week that his brother, Vittorio, a banker based in Switzerland, only had a passing involvement in the former WPP employee's business dealings.

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