Proud Ferruzzi dynasty brought low by scandals: Graft inquiry heaps humiliation on Italian company still reeling from the suicide of its leading light

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The Independent Online
THEY SEEM a real-life version of Dallas: the women glamorous, long-legged, stunningly dressed; the men powerful and distinguished. They move against a background of palaces, villas and yachts, vast ranches in South America, private jets, and jewels.

They controlled the second biggest family conglomerate in Italy after the Agnellis' Fiat - until scandal struck last year, provoking the suicide of their most prominent member, Raul Gardini. Now the Ferruzzi dynasty has suffered another, most humiliating blow.

Eight leading figures in the Ravenna-based food and chemicals group, including three members of the Ferruzzi family, have been notified they are under investigation. The suspicion: association to commit crimes - a charge normally levelled at mafiosi, gangs of common criminals or the worst kind of political corruption suspects, not some of the richest, most glittering personalities in Italian capitalism.

They include Arturo Ferruzzi, son of the late Serafino Ferruzzi, the shrewd patriarch who built up a vast family fortune on grain and cereals. He is the former head of the family's financial arm, Ferfin.

Then there is Alessandra, the youngest, most beautiful and most determined of his three sisters, and her husband Carlo Sama, former managing director of the huge Montedison chemicals concern that was to set off their family's downfall. The crimes they are suspected of conniving at include issuing false declarations and fraud.

The Ravenna magistrates are investigating alleged 'parallel' finances of the dynasty, conducted secretly abroad. These, they believe, enabled them not only to pay illegal bribes to politicians but also to buy jewels, to finance Mr Gardini's ocean-going yachts and his participation in the prestigious America's Cup races, and to make lavish presents to friends.

The fall of the house of Ferruzzi began last May, when it emerged that Ferfin was more than 15 trillion lire ( pounds 6bn) in debt and that Montedison, of which they had gained control in an astonishing stock exchange operation by Mr Gardini, was 11.5 trillion in the red. In June, a group of five banks, their leading creditors, took over in a rescue operation and declared the debts to be more than 30 trillion lire.

Meanwhile, magistrates were investigating the biggest of all corruption scandals, the Enimont case, in which Mr Gardini allegedly paid vast sums to political parties to extricate Montedison from an ill- fated joint venture with the state petrochemicals concern ENI. Mr Gardini, former chairman of Montedison, read in the newspapers that arrest warrants were out for him and four other executives. He shot himself in the head.

The family is far from ruined but there are signs it is cutting back. Its fleet of private jets and helicopters has reportedly been sold, the Milan palazzo where Gardini died, closed down. Mr Gardini's widow, Idina, is not touching his property for fear of trouble with the magistrates. At one stage even bank accounts were sequestered, and Mr Sama complained he had not even enough money to buy petrol.

The family is already divided, since Mr Gardini and his wife broke financially with the rest three years ago. And relations between the rest are reported to be stormy. Mr Sama and Alessandra are said to be hoping to go and live on their vast estate in Argentina until it is all forgotten.

(Photograph omitted)