Raoul Gardini

Death of a dream

Deirdre Pirro
February 11, 2010

Just after 8 o'clock on the morning of July 23, 1993, an ambulance was called to the elegant eighteenth-century Palazzo Belgioioso, just behind the Scala Opera House in Milan. A man had shot himself in the head. That man was Raoul Gardini, the charismatic entrepreneur who had dreamed of creating a great Italian chemical hub and who had, only the year before, been the toast of Italy as the chairman of the syndicate that sponsored Il Moro di Venezia, the first Italian yacht to reach the finals of the America's Cup.


In the early 1990s, Gardini was one of more than 2,500 business leaders and politicians entangled in the Tangentopoli (Bribesville) scandal in which Italy's political parties were accused of taking bribes from industry. Prompted by his fear of imminent arrest and disgrace over what came to be called the Enimont affair, Gardini was also the 12th person to commit suicide in the wake of the Mani pulite (Clean hands) investigations by the pool of judges of the Prosecutor's Office in Milan. Although the attempt to create the Enimont joint venture between Montedison, Gardini's private chemical company, and ENI, the state energy company, had failed, ENI paid out more than $2.5 billion for Montedison's 40 percent stake in the venture. This vastly exceeded its worth and became the object of enquiries.


It was alleged that Montedison had used this sum described in the newspapers as ‘the mother of all kick-backs,' to pay out more than $90 million in illicit kickbacks to leading politicians, including two former prime ministers (denied, of course), in order to fund their parties. Gardini and his associates were accused of falsifying the company books to cover the fraud. Just three days before Gardini's death, Gabriele Cagliari, the chairman of ENI at the time of the scandal, was found dead in his prison cell in Milan, where he had been held for 134 days while investigations were made into his part in the Enimont affair. He had tied a plastic bag over his head.


The rise of Gardini, who was born on a farm in Ravenna on June 7, 1933, to corporate fame and fortune had been meteoric. After graduation from agricultural college, he went to work for Serafino Ferruzzi, a self-made man who had created an empire in grain and cement. Through his considerable charm, driving ambition and business panache, Gardini was soon part of the company's top management. In 1957, he married Idina, Ferruzzi's eldest daughter, and in 1979, after the death of his father-in-law in a plane crash, he took the helm of the group.


He moved quickly and aggressively to expand the group globally through a strategy of diversification. The high point came in 1986 when Gardini led the takeover raid on the chemical giant Montedison and acquired the insurance colossus Fondiaria. Within a time, under his direction, the family-controlled group employed 52,000 people and had more than 200 plants around the world. Its turnover was second only to that of Fiat.


By 1991, Gardini wanted to hand over control of the Ferruzzi group to his children. The rest of the family did not agree and Gardini was relieved of all his corporate powers, although he is reported to have departed with a golden handshake estimated at $380 million.


It was, however, Gardini's successor at Montedison, Giuseppe Garofano, who, following his arrest and extradition from Switzerland, blew the whistle and revealed to investigators all they wanted to know about the company's part in the Enimont conspiracy. Prosecutors issued arrest warrants for Gardini and four other Ferruzzi executives, including Sergio Cusani whose subsequent trial for having organised and distributed the bribes was sensational and kept Italians glued to their TV sets for days.


In the aftermath of Gardini's death, his widow publicly stated that she did not believe her husband had committed suicide and that she had ‘many doubts' about his death. She described him as a ‘born fighter' and someone who ‘never gave up.' She alleged he was ‘being blackmailed and seriously threatened.' It was also reported in the press that the pistol from which the fatal shot was fired was on a bedside table and not beside the body. Police found a purported suicide note in Gardini's handwriting addressed to his family in which he simply wrote ‘thank you.' One expert's report concluded, however, that the note had been written many months before the shooting. Other reports asserted that the butler may have moved the gun away from the body. Whatever the case may be, the question remains, if Gardini didn't fire the shot, who did and, above all, why?


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