Confindustria fires top Brussels lobbyist as investigation into online scam continues
3 October 2017. By James Panichi.
Italy's biggest industry group Confindustria has fired its top Brussels lobbyist after claims he lost more than 300,000 euros ($350,000) of the association's funds to online scammers.
Confindustria has confirmed to MLex that it terminated the employment of Gianfranco Dell'Alba, the head of the Italian employers' federation EU office, after it emerged he had fallen for what the association has described as an "online fraud."
Confindustria says that, under Belgian law, it was forced to fire Dell'Alba, but it accepts that the lobbyist was a "victim" of the scam. Dell'Alba declined to comment when reached by MLex.
The industry association says it has now launched an internal investigation into the circumstances that led Dell'Alba, who had run the office since 2009, to believe he was being instructed by his Rome-based boss to transfer the money.
Confindustria, referred to in legal documents as Confederazione Generale dell'Industria Italiana, is an umbrella group representing more than 150,000 Italian businesses and professional associations. Among its members are Poste Italiane, oil company Eni and power producer Enel.
According to Confindustria, Dell'Alba responded to two separate e-mails that he believed had been sent by the association's managing director, Marcella Panucci. Those e-mails were later revealed as fake, the association says.
In the correspondence, the person claiming to be Panucci told Dell'Alba to transfer a large quantity of money from Confindustria's Belgian bank to a foreign account, telling him not to call her because she was traveling with the association's chairman, Vincenzo Boccia.
The industry group says that Dell'Alba transferred "less than 500,000 euros" to the account. According to Confindustria's head office, part of that sum was later recovered, but the association has sustained "damages of 300,000 euros."
The money was paid into a Taiwanese bank account in mid-September, according to Confindustria.
The association says it is reluctant to discuss the matter further, fearing that any public comments could undermine an internal investigation.
But others within the industry group are disputing the official account of events, saying that the money lost is "in excess" of 500,000 euros.
They also say that, internally, the initial claim that the money had ended up in Taiwan has since been corrected, with senior managers now saying it had ended up in "a tax haven."
It also remains unclear how Dell'Alba was able to transfer money to an unknown account from Confindustria's bank account, with Banca Monte Paschi Belgio. Under Belgium's 1993 money-laundering legislation, there are limits on the daily amount that can be sent to an unknown account.
At the time of publication, Banca Monte Paschi Belgio hadn't responded to MLex's inquiries.
Confindustria says that while Dell'Alba was authorized to spend small amounts of money, the Brussels manager might have "exceeded" his authority in making such a large payment.
The Italian industry association is a financial backer of Rome's prestigious Luiss business school and owns the country's leading financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, as well as the national talk-radio network Radio 24.
Il Sole 24 Ore was recently caught up in an investigation by an Italian magistrate into falsified accounts.
According to the allegations, senior staff at the newspaper inflated the number of its digital subscriptions. The investigation, which is ongoing, eventually prompted the resignation of the newspaper's editor, Roberto Napoletano, who has denied any wrongdoing.
In the EU, Dell'Alba is a widely respected figure. Born in the Tuscan port city of Livorno, he was a member of the European Parliament between 1994 and 2004, representing different political movements associated with Italy's small but influential Radical Party.
The Radicals make up a libertarian, pro-market political movement, which counts among its members Emma Bonino, a former European commissioner and Italian foreign minister. Dell'Alba served as a member of Bonino's political staff in Brussels between 2001 and 2008.
According to the EU's transparency register, which is not legally binding, Confindustria declared a lobby spend of between 900,000 euros and 1 million euros in the 12 months from May 2015. This amount includes lobbyists' salaries.
The employers' federation declared the equivalent of eight full-time positions working on EU affairs. The organization has had 41 high-level meetings at the European Commission since 2014 — many of them relating to country-of-origin labeling rules for foods.