Parmalat executives' £11bn fraud trial set to call 34,000 witnesses

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The Independent Online

The main trial over the 2003 collapse of the Italian food giant Parmalat began yesterday, with 56 defendants facing charges in a case that could last years.

Parmalat, best known before its fall for its long-life milk products, buckled more than four years ago with a €14bn (£11bn) hole in its accounts, wiping out the savings of thousands of small investors.

Parmalat's founder, Calisto Tanzi, and its former chief financial officer, Fausto Tonna, are among executives who face fraudulent bankruptcy and criminal conspiracy charges. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in jail. They have denied wrongdoing and put the blame on banks. There are also ongoing trials in Milan involving former company executives, bankers and auditors.

Prosecution and defence teams have asked 34,000 people to be witnesses, and the trial is expected to last at least two or three years.

"The duration [of the trial] will be long, we hope there will be settlements," said the lawyer Carlo Federico Grosso, who is representing 32,000 savers. "To obtain a sentence is one thing; to get money back is another."

The crisis erupted in 2003, when Parmalat said a €4bn bank account held by a Cayman Islands unit did not exist, forcing management to seek bankruptcy protection and triggering a fraud inquiry.