Olivetti boss paid political bribes

Click to follow
ROME (Reuter) - Carlo De Benedetti, the president of the giant computer group Olivetti, admitted yesterday that the company had paid bribes to win public sector contracts. He had presented himself for questioning to Antonio Di Pietro, a magistrate involved in the Milan mani pulite (clean hands) investigation that has cut a swathe through Italy's political and business class in the past 15 months.

'I only gave in (to pressure from political parties to give bribes) when I found it necessary to defend the survival of the company and the interests of tens of thousands of workers and shareholders,' Mr De Benedetti claimed. He added that the firm had paid about 10bn lire (pounds 4.4m) to obtain contracts with the state postal services over four years.

Mr De Benedetti, 58, had long maintained that Olivetti was not involved in illegally funding political parties. But Giuseppe Lo Moro, a businessman who had been arrested, reportedly pointed the finger at the company.

Mr De Benedetti said he would take full responsibility for Olivetti's actions, and presented a series of documents to Mr Di Pietro. He also attacked Italy's main political parties. 'I repeatedly came into conflict with the methods of a political regime which has exercised its power . . . for holding the economic system to ransom,' he said.

In 1992, Mr De Benedetti was sentenced to more than six years in prison over the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano, of which he was briefly vice-president a decade earlier. He was freed pending an appeal.

Mr De Benedetti came to the forefront of Italian business life in 1978 when he took over Olivetti, then a moribund typewriter maker, in which his firm's finance company, CIR, took a 15 per cent stake. He rapidly transformed it into Europe's biggest supplier of office equipment, helping to earn a reputation as a corporate Midas able to rescue ailing firms. But Olivetti has begun to make heavy losses again in recent years.

The Italian corruption scandal, in which some 1,500 people have been arrested, initially centred on accusations that politicians took bribes in exchange for public works contracts, but gathered force as evidence emerged of collusion between leading politicians and the Mafia.