Italian magnates may face charges

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ROME - Two senior industrialists prominent in the world of sport were warned yesterday that they might be prosecuted in a corruption inquiry, their lawyer said.

Raul Gardini and Sergio Cragnotti, among Italy's best known entrepreneurs, face investigation over the Enimont joint venture between the state oil company, ENI, and Italy's Montedison chemical firm, said the lawyer, Marco De Luca. Both men are famous at home and abroad for their sporting links.

Mr Gardini, an avid yachtsman, was syndicate chief of Italy's failed attempt to win the America's Cup last year; Mr Cragnotti is president of Lazio soccer club.

Lorenzo Necci, the head of Italy's state-owned railways and a former chairman of Enimont, was notified on Thursday he might be prosecuted in the inquiry.

They are the latest illustrious victims of a seemingly endless series of corruption scandals which are lifting the veil on decades of bribery and mismanagement.

This week two senior executives from Fiat, Italy's largest private company, were arrested on corruption charges and the heads of Italy's two largest state holdings were warned of investigations.

Virtually no sector of industry has escaped. Public works contracts which fuel industrial production have all but dried up.

In this latest case, Milan magistrates are investigating the affairs of the Enimont joint venture which lasted less than two years and collapsed amid recriminations in November 1990. Under the terms of its break-up, Montedison was paid some pounds 1.4bn and Eni mont reverted to the ENI group under the name of Enichem. Investigators are looking into allegations that the company was overvalued when it was sold to ENI.

Mr Gardini was chairman of Enimont for most of its brief life while Mr Cragnotti was managing director. Mr Cragnotti took charge of the Lazio football club in Rome a year ago. The club, which has since invested heavily in players, includes Paul Gascoigne, the England international, on its staff. Mr Cragnotti has vowed to match the achievements of Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate, who has turned AC Milan into one of the world's strongest football teams.