The silver-haired former chairman of the huge Ferruzzi conglomerate, international yachtsman, America's Cup challenger and owner of a beautiful but cursed palace on Venice's Grand Canal, fired a Walther 7.65mm pistol into his temple only hours before he was due to be arrested along with two other former top executives related to him by marriage.
They were accused of publishing false accounts, corruption and breach of party financing laws. It was not known whether Gardini was aware of his pending arrest.
Gardini, 60, had been due to go to the funeral of Gabriele Cagliari, the former head of the state-owned ENI petrochemicals group, who committed suicide in jail three days earlier.
Gardini was the tenth and probably most dazzling member of Italy's old establishment to commit suicide since the corruption investigations began a year and a half ago. His was the fourth death connected with investigations into Enimont, the short- lived chemicals joint venture involving ENI and the Montedison concern then owned by Ferruzzi.
Television channels broadcast newsflashes of his death and newspapers produced special editions.
Gardini was woken in his Milan flat at 7am and brought breakfast and the newspapers by his butler. Shortly before 9am the butler found him on his bed in a pool of blood, pistol still in his hand.
Gardini is likely to have read in the papers that Giuseppe Garofano, former chairman of Montedison, had allegedly told investigating magistrates that Gardini had fiddled the company's accounts to hide large losses and to channel money to political parties. The text of Mr Garofano's alleged confessions was about to be published by the weekly Il Mondo.
Gardini, who came from a simple farming background, had worked for Serafino Ferruzzi, founder of the Ravenna grains, foodstuffs and chemicals firm, married his eldest daughter Idina and after Serafino's death in an air crash in 1979 become chairman.
He became famous in the mid-1980s when through stealthy stock market operations he took control of Montedison, one of the world's largest chemical companies. He went on to seek control over Italy's whole chemicals industry.
He boasted that he had brought Ferruzzi in 10 years from a turnover of 6 trillion lire to 36 trillion, but the family ousted him with a handshake of dollars 400m, a palace and a fleet of yachts. It soon emerged that Ferruzzi had been vastly overstretched and was in great difficulty. A group of banks is organising a rescue.
Gardini believed in 'living life to the full', including hunting and large yachts, including the Moor of Venice with which he bid in 1992 for the America's Cup.
In Venice he bought one of the leading glass firms and the 15th-century marble palazzo Ca' Dario, whose owners over the centuries have suffered a series of murders, bankruptcies and suicides.
Obituary, page 13
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