U.S. sues for $110 million forfeiture in Italian corruption case
The Associated Press
Monday, July 16, 2007
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MIAMI: The U.S. Justice Department is asking a federal judge in Miami to approve forfeiture of $110 million (€79.8 million) from U.S.-based financial institutions that were allegedly used to launder money from an Italian corruption case.
The civil complaint filed last week seeks the money from 19 bank or brokerage accounts that U.S. officials say were used to funnel ill-gotten proceeds from a scheme orchestrated by late businessman Angelo "Nino" Rovelli to pay bribes to Italian judges.
The assets subject to forfeiture are held by several major U.S. firms, including Atlas One Financial Group, Citibank, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia Securities, UBS Paine Webber and First Allied Securities, among others. The complaint does not accuse the institutions of any wrongdoing.
Any money that is recovered would be returned to potential victims who file a petition for their share, according to a statement issued Monday by Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta.
Rovelli died in 1990, but the lawsuit involving the bribes ultimately netted his heirs some $400 million, according to court documents. One of Rovelli's sons and a family financial adviser, Pierfrancesco Munari, were arrested in January by Italian authorities on money laundering charges.
Acting at the request of the Italian government, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Miami helped trace a series of transactions between 1998 and 2007 intended to conceal some of the money in the U.S.
Under U.S. law, that money is now subject to forfeiture as process of a crime. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages, who has not yet scheduled a hearing.
Italian authorities initially learned of the Rovelli bribery during the mid-1990s investigation of several well-connected lawyers, including Cesare Previti. Previti had once been Italy's minister of finance and was a close associate of former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Testimony in that investigation indicated that the attorneys regularly paid bribes to fix cases. Among those was a lawsuit Rovelli had brought against Banco Instituto Mobilaire Italiano, or IMI, over its refusal to honor a bailout of a chemical company Rovelli controlled.
Three Italian lawyers and several judges were convicted of public corruption offenses, although convictions against two judges were later overturned on appeal.