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Fresh operation in probe into scandal-hit MPS

Police searches into allegations of 47-mln-euro theft

24 February, 20:04
Fresh operation in probe into scandal-hit MPS (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, February 24 - A new chapter in the scandal-plagued Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) bank opened Monday as Italian finance police made dozens of searches as part of a probe into new allegations of corruption.

The searches reportedly targetted alleged members of the so-called "5% gang" - a name given to ex-bank managers suspected of taking 5% payoffs on banking operations under a previous management.

Investigators believe MPS was fleeced of about 47 million euro between January and October 2013, as part of a larger fraud. Prosecutors say they hope to eventually bring charges of aggravated criminal conspiracy aimed at defrauding the Sienese bank.

The case involves funds transferred to offshore accounts, trusts and companies, and investigators are reaching out as far as San Marino, Switzerland, Great Britain and Singapore as they search for suspicious international transactions.

The Siena prosecutor's office has placed 11 former MPS managers and financial brokers under investigation in the case, including Gianluca Baldassarri, former chief of finance for MPS.

They are also probing Baldassarri's former deputy, Alessandro Toccafondi, the former head of the MPS London office Matteo Pontone, and former MPS manager Antonio Pantalena.

Also under investigation in the probe is Fabrizio Cerasani, a founding partner and director of the London-based company Enigma Securities, who also served as Enigma's representative in Italy.

He denied the allegations, telling Italy's RAI television on Monday that "there was no skimming". He also said that he wasn't acquainted with MPS's former finance chief Baldassarre.

Three Enigma brokers are under scrutiny - Maurizio Fabris, David Ionni and Luca Borrone - in addition to three other people.

Roughly 40 million euros were seized last summer from a number of suspects in the case.

Italy's third-largest bank was thrown into crisis in January 2013 when it emerged that a shady series of derivative and structured-finance deals produced losses of 720 million euros.

Siena prosecutors are pursuing charges of alleged bribery, corruption, tax evasion and other illicit operations at MPS, which were either related to the bank's nine-billion-euro acquisition of rival Antonveneta in 2008 or the period following the takeover.

After five months behind bars, Baldassarri was released from jail last July and placed under house arrest in his Milan residence.

The ex-MPS finance chief is accused of market manipulation, fraud, obstructing banking watchdogs, issuing false statements and possible collusion in the obstruction of proper oversight together with MPS's former chairman Giuseppe Mussari.

Meanwhile, Italian regulators have been closely monitoring the troubled bank after it decided last month to delay a crucial three-billion-euro share sale until May.

The planned rights issue was tied to repaying part of the 4.1-billion euros in State aid it received from the Italian government as part of a plan to turn the lender around.

Analysts have said the bank may risk nationalization if it fails to generate enough capital to repay State aid.

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