Widow hits back in Fiat family feud heading for courts

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The Independent Online

The war between the Agnellis is out in the open. In a letter published this week Marella Agnelli, widow of Gianni, the late, legendary boss of Fiat, accuses Margherita de Pahlen, her only surviving child, of "betraying the will of Gianni Agnelli, my husband". She charges Margherita with alleging "numerous falsehoods, which add bitterness to an affair that is sad and painful for me".

This is Signora Agnelli's long-delayed rejoinder to the lawsuit launched by Margherita earlier this year against three of the family's long-established advisers, intended to force the secretive group of consiglieri in whom Gianni Agnelli entrusted his secrets to come clean about the inheritance.

Margherita Agnelli is the only surviving child of Gianni, following the suicide of her brother Edoardo in 2000. In the lawsuit, due to be heard in Turin in January, she maintains that she and Marella, despite being Gianni's closest living relatives, were deliberately kept in the dark about the size of her father's inheritance.

The alleged implication is that the family advisers, Grande Stevens, Gianluigi Gabetti and Sigrid Maron, had accumulated a sinister degree of power over the family proper, and she has demanded to know the true size of her father's fortune.

She told the German magazine Focus recently: "The family managers have for years only told me vague things. That's why I have gone to court. I want the truth to come to light." When the interviewer told her that Agnelli's fortune had been estimated at €5bn, Margherita replied: "That would be fantastic. I have no idea how rich my father was."

Marella retorts in her letter that her daughter "reached a definitive and satisfactory agreement on every aspect" of Gianni's inheritance in 2004. "My daughter chose definitively to leave the [Fiat] Group, obtaining abundant compensation from me, sufficient to guarantee a serene future for her and her children... To accuse my husband's most faithful collaborators is an act of ingratitude that betrays the will of Gianni Agnelli".

The constant insinuation is that Margherita, who signed the agreement to quit the group when Fiat appeared to be at death's door, has noticed that it has returned to life and wants more money. But on the key point of the true size of her father's fortune, and the curious fact that it has never been made public, the silence is deafening.

Asked directly by Focus if she wanted more money, Margherita replied: "I only want transparency and equality. I would like to be able to sit down around a table with my family and say, this is the inheritance."