Showing posts with label Collecchio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Collecchio. Show all posts

17 November 2018

Calisto Tanzi - disgraced businessman

Man at the centre of the Parmalat scandal 

Calisto Tanzi took over his father's grocery store when he was 22 years old
Calisto Tanzi took over his father's grocery
store when he was 22 years old
Calisto Tanzi, the business tycoon jailed for 18 years following the biggest corporate disaster in Italian history, was born on this day in 1938 in Collecchio, a town in Emilia-Romagna, about 13km (8 miles) from the city of Parma.

Tanzi was founder and chief executive of Parmalat, the enormous global food conglomerate that collapsed in 2003 with a staggering €14 billion worth of debt.

Subsequent criminal investigations found that Tanzi, who built the Parmalat empire from the grocery store his father had run in Collecchio, had been misappropriating funds and engaging in fraudulent practices for as much as a decade in order to maintain an appearance of success and prosperity when in fact the business was failing catastrophically.

Of all those hurt by the collapse, the biggest victims were more than 135,000 small investors who had bought bonds in the company, some of them trusting Parmalat with their entire life savings.

Between 2008 and 2010, Tanzi was found guilty by four different courts of fraud, of the fraudulent bankruptcy of Parmalat, the fraudulent bankruptcy of Parmatour, a travel industry subsidiary, and of false accounting at Parma, the football club he owned.

The Parmalat logo became familiar in almost every food store and supermarket across Italy and elsewhere
The Parmalat logo became familiar in almost every
food store and supermarket across Italy and elsewhere
There were several appeals, during which Tanzi, who had been arrested and held in custody immediately following the collapse, was able to continue living on his estate. However, he finally began his sentences in 2011.

The Parmalat story was portrayed as fairy tale of modern Italy. Calisto Tanzi was a 22-year-old university student when his father, Melchiorre, died suddenly in 1961. As the oldest son and out of a sense of duty to the family, Calisto gave up his studies in order to take over his father’s shop.

Family-run grocers were and still are a fixture in Italian high streets. Calisto could have had a comfortable life running such an essential business - but he had bigger ideas.

Parmalat was a major sponsor of sport, including football and Formula One motor racing
Parmalat was a major sponsor of sport, including football
and Formula One motor racing
Anticipating that there was a market in Italy for selling milk that could be kept fresh for an extended period, he acquired premises on the outskirts of Parma in which to set up a pasteurisation plant. He bought packaging from the burgeoning Swedish company, Tetra Pak, sterilized the milk by heating it to extremely high temperatures and sealed it in Tetra Pak's cartons. He came up with the name Parmalat to display on the cartons, turning a basic agricultural product into a unique brand.

The venture was a hue success and soon he diversified into pasta sauce, biscuits, yoghurts, fruit juice and ice cream. White lorries carrying the company’s simple petal logo became a familiar sight on Italy's roads.

Parmalat grew to become the entrepreneurial symbol of Parma, and Tanzi the city's most generous benefactor.  The Tanzi family began to be seen as the Agnellis of Parma and Tanzi was determined to extend his largesse.

The court room at Tanzi's trial, in which he was found guilty of various frauds and jailed for 18 years
The court room at Tanzi's trial, in which he was found
guilty of various frauds and jailed for 18 years
He bought the city’s struggling football team and turned them not only into a force in Serie A but in Europe too.  Parmalat also invested heavily in Formula One, including backing the Austrian driver Niki Lauda.

Tanzi promoted the city's Verdi festival, in honour of the region's most famous composer, and paid for the uncovering and restoration of frescoes in the city's cathedral.

At its peak, Parmalat had more than 5,000 employees in Italy, and more than 30,000 in the rest of the world.  Inside the company, however, things were not as they seemed.

Profits were hit hard by the collapse of Latin American economies during the 1990s, and the problems caused by that were compounded by the threatened bankruptcy of the family travel company, Parmatour. 

But Tanzi tried to pretend all was well. Secretly, he began to remove cash - €500 million by his own admission - from Parmalat to prop up Parmatour. But that was only the start.

Tanzi desperately wanted to maintain the appearance that his business was in good shape when it was actually failing
Tanzi desperately wanted to maintain the appearance that his
business was in good shape when it was actually failing
In the years that followed, in his determination to preserve the illusion of prosperity and not lose face, Tanzi became increasingly reckless, apparently oblivious to the consequences that lies, falsification, forgery and fraud would inevitably bring. Investigators found that he had ordered his accountants to create a complex web of subsidiary companies based in offshore tax havens, which would appear to be holding billions of euros in credits from other Parmalat markets.

It all came crashing down eventually over a sum of just €150 million needed to redeem bonds. One of the company's banks advised them to draw on the €3.95 billion that one subsidiary supposedly had sitting in a Bank of America account in the Cayman Islands. It soon became clear the account did not exist.

In late December 2003, Parmalat filed for bankruptcy protection. The US Securities and Exchange Commission then sued Parmalat, alleging it had wrongfully induced American investors to buy more than $1.5 billion worth of securities. Eventually, Tanzi and others were arrested.

As well as his prison sentence, Tanzi suffered the loss of many of his considerable collection of works of art as paintings by by Picasso, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and others, worth more than €100 million, were seized by police, despite the efforts of friends to hide them, in order to pay back some of the company's losses. He was also stripped of the honours previously bestowed on him by the Italian government.

The headquarters of Parmalat is still in Collecchio
The headquarters of Parmalat is still in Collecchio
Travel tip:

There is evidence of a settlement in the area of Collecchio since the Paleolithic Age, although it was not until 1796 that it was given the status of a comune.  Its history in the food industry began at the end of the 19th century as a centre for canning and meat products. It became an important centre in the Italian charcuterie industry as well as for dairy products including Parmesan cheese. It is still the headquarters of Parmalat, which was restructured in 2005 and is now a subsidiary of the French group Lactalis. In April 1945, the town was famously liberated from Nazi forces by the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in the Battle of Collecchio.

The church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma with its beautiful facade
The church of San Giovanni Evangelista
in Parma with its beautiful facade
Travel tip:

Parma is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma until 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio. Among the main sights is the 11th century Romanesque cathedral and adjoining baptistery, the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, which has a beautiful late Mannerist facade and bell tower, and the Palazzo della Pilotta, which houses the Academy of Fine Arts, the Palatine Library, the National Gallery and an archaeological museum.

More reading:

Nevio Scala - the football manager who brought success to Parma

The mysterious death of Enrico Mattei

Camillo Olivetti - founder of Italy's first typewriter factory

Also on this day:

1494: The death of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

1503: The birth of the Florentine master painter Bronzino

1878: The attempted murder of Umberto I


29 April 2017

Liberation of Fornovo di Taro

How Brazilian soldiers hastened Nazi capitulation

The moment at which General Otto Fretter-Pico (second left) formally surrendered to Brazilian forces in Fornovo di Taro
The moment at which General Otto Fretter-Pico (second left)
formally surrendered to Brazilian forces in Fornovo di Taro
The town of Fornovo di Taro in Emilia-Romagna acquired a significant place in Italian military history for a second time on this day in 1945 when it was liberated from Nazi occupation by soldiers from the Brazilian Expeditionary Force fighting with the Allies.

Under the command of General João Baptista Mascarenhas de Morais, the Brazilians marched into Fornovo, which is situated about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Parma on the east bank of the Taro river, at the conclusion of the four-day Battle of Collecchio.

It was in Fornovo that the 148th Infantry Division of the German army under the leadership of General Otto Fretter-Pico offered their surrender, along with soldiers from the 90th Panzergrenadier Division and the 1st Bersaglieri and 4th Mountain Divisions of the Fascist National Republican Army.

In total, 14,779 German and Italian troops laid down their arms after Fretter-Pico concluded that, with the Brazilians surrounding the town, aided by two American tank divisions and one company of Italian partisans, there was no hope of escape.

Although the total capitulation of the German and Fascist armies in Italy was not officially announced until May 2 in Turin, the surrender in Fornovo effectively brought the war in the peninsula to an end.

Italian citizens hailed the Brazilians as heroes
Italian citizens hailed the Brazilians as heroes
It represented a successful conclusion to an eight-month campaign in Italy by the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, which numbered 25,700 army and air force personnel, representing the only independent South American country to send ground troops to fight overseas during the whole of the Second World War.

Brazil, traditionally isolationist, had initially remained neutral in the global conflict, although it allowed the United States to set up bases on Brazilian soil.  But, in 1942, Brazil’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with the Axis countries of Germany, Japan and Italy prompted Germany to send submarines to the south Atlantic to attack Brazilian merchant ships.

During the month of July 1942, 13 Brazilian ships were sunk, at a cost of more than 100 lives, mainly crew members.  The country’s leaders still refused to be drawn into the conflict but the attacks continued and in the space of just two days in August, a single German U-boat sank five ships, causing more than 600 deaths, many of them civilians travelling on passenger vessels.

Faced with rioting on the streets as German businesses in the capital Rio de Janeiro were attacked, Brazil’s president, Getúlio Vargas, had no option but declare war on Germany and its allies.

It took two years to convert Brazil’s obsolete army into a force that was anywhere near equipped to fight effectively in Europe but in July 1944 the first 5,000 Brazilian troops disembarked in Naples.  Others arrived later.

The tunic badge
Such had been the scepticism in Brazil about any of their countrymen ever seeing action, they acquired the nickname ‘the smoking snakes’ – so called because Brazilians would joke with one another, using an expression with a similar meaning to 'pigs might fly' in the English language, that it was more likely that ‘a snake would smoke a pipe’ than the BEF would go to the front and fight.  They wore a badge on their tunics depicting a smoking snake.

Yet between September 1944 and the German surrender they achieved success in 17 battles across the north of Italy. Deployed to replace the French and US troops that had been diverted to help in the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, they attracted praise in particular for the part they played in the battles for Monte Castello and Castelnuovo in the Northern Apennines, as well as in the Battle of Collecchio.

Although the Italian Front was not as important as the Eastern Front in bringing the Nazis to their knees, the hastening of the German defeat in the peninsula, coming at the same time as the Red Army captured Berlin and news spread of the death of Adolf Hitler, helped bring the Second World War to a quicker end than might otherwise have been the case. The Fascist leader Benito Mussolini had been executed by Italian partisans only 24 hours before Fornovo witnessed its historic moment.

Overall, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force suffered 443 losses over the eight months but against that took 20,573 Axis prisoners.

For Fornovo, the battle fought in the surrounding countryside prompted historians to recall that the town had witnessed a major military confrontation once before in its history as the site of the Battle of Fornovo, fought between the Italian Holy League and the French forces of Charles VIII at the start of the Italian Wars in July 1495.

Parma's baptistry
Parma's baptistry
Travel tip:

Fornovo and Collecchio are within a short distance of Parma, one of the most attractive cities of the Emilia-Romagna region. The home of prosciutto di parma, parmigiano reggiano and Sangiovese wine, it is a food-lover’s paradise but also a city with a rich cultural heritage, the home of composers Giuseppe Verdi and Niccolò Paganini, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, the film director Bernardo Bertolucci, the writer Giovanni Guareschi and a host of painters, headed by Francesco Mazzola, better known as Il Parmigiano.  The city has much fine architecture, too, including a striking Romanesque cathedral and neighbouring baptistry, several other churches and palaces and notable modern buildings such as the Niccolò Paganini Auditorium, designed by Renzo Piano.

Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia
Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, the next city on from Parma along the route of the Via Emilia – the Roman road that linked Piacenza, south-east of Milan, with the Adriatic resort of Rimini – lacks the cultural wealth of Parma and tends to be given little attention as a result. Yet it is an attractive city, neat and well organised, retaining its historical centre, which has a hexagonal layout based on its old walls, but with a modern and forward-thinking attitude.  There are many fine restaurants, elegant squares and interesting palaces and churches, and its roll call of famous citizens ranges from the poet Ludovico Ariosto to the former prime minister Romano Prodi and the football coach Carlo Ancelotti.

More reading:

How Mussolini was captured and killed by Italian partisans

Annual celebration of Festa della Liberazione

The moment Italy entered the Second World War

Also on this day:

1675: The birth of painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini

1987: The birth of tennis champion Sara Errani