Former Giro d’Italia chief Michele Acquarone has spoken in detail about his upcoming court battle with former employers RCS Sport, saying that he was given assurances his job was safe days before he was sacked, that he was told by police he was not a suspect in the fraud carried out at the company, and that he believes RCS’s dismissal of him is illegal.
Acquarone stated in recent days on Twitter that his unfair dismissal case against RCS Sport will take place on July 29th in a Milan court; he has now talked at length about that situation with CyclingTips, and believes that he will triumph in two actions against the company.
The Italian took over as the helm of the Giro d’Italia following the sacking of the previous race director Angelo Zomegnan in 2011. He was seen by many teams and fans as progressive, helping the race to expand its profile and also ushering in changes to the route which imposed less transfer demands on the riders.
However in early October Acquarone was sidelined from his position as head of the Giro d’Italia and the COO of RCS Sport, as was former RCS CEO Giacomo Catano. The suspensions were carried out after RCS Sport said that a possible misappropriation of thirteen million euro had been was detected and that an audit would be carried out.
In the fallout from that, administrative director Laura Bertinotti quit her role, media relations director Matteo Pastore, was also suspended and the chairman Flavio Biondi was replaced by Raimondo Zanaboni.
Mauro Vegni has since taken over in Acquarone’s former slot. The latter was fired in December and reacted by launching an unfair dismissal case. He has also lodged a claim for defamation against RCS Sport, on the grounds that the manner of his dismissal caused his reputation harm.
“I am looking forward to the 29th of July in the court in Milan, because I want to see what the judge will say,” he told CyclingTips this weekend. “Maybe it will be a long process, maybe not just one day, but I need to know.
“From the first moment [this started] I was really open with everyone, with media and fans. I want people to know what happened. My reputation is the most important thing. I always said that I did nothing wrong and now I need the court to say it. And I need RCS to pay for what they did.
“In my opinion, what they did was really bad. Even if they are a big company, if they have big power, they cannot do things like that. And I still don’t know the reason.”
According to Acquarone, on September 27th the RCS Sport CEO Riccardo Taranto spoke to him in front of the company’s employees, saying that he was not under suspicion. The world road race championships were taking place in Florence and he said that Taranto told him to continue with his usual role.
“He said, ‘Michele, there is a big scandal but we trust you and you are going to be the man who will lead the ship through the storm.’ That was on the Friday, on September 27th.
“He said, ‘please go to Florence, to the worlds, say to everyone that things are fine, that they don’t have to worry and that the Giro is in safe hands.’ But when I came back to my office the week after that, I was suspended without work. I just got a letter saying, ‘please go home, leave here your email, your computer, your mobile phone.’
“That is not acceptable to me. I spent two months at home suspended, waiting for something but nothing happened.
“At they end, they said, ‘Michele, you should have controlled better. Something wrong happened here and you didn’t control it.’ But they never said to me what happened and how I was supposed to control it in a better way. It was unbelievable. They didn’t show me even a document which proved that I did something wrong.
“Meanwhile everybody was thinking that I have stolen some money. So now I went to court because I need somebody to take a decision about that. Could RCS fire me like that? I think no, because there is no single reason.”
Acquarone spoke about the different court actions in place. The first is the general penal investigation into the missing money; he said that while he doesn’t know the current state of that enquiry, that he understands the wing of the police responsible for such matters are in the RCS offices “almost every day.”
He claims he has already been told that he is not under investigation in that matter. “As regards this case, nobody suspects me. When I went to speak with the police before in December, I was there just as a witness.
“Now I’ve gone to the police and I accused RCS of defamation. They were really bad with me and I need to get a ruling about that.”
Acquarone has been without work for months, although CyclingTips understands a role in a new project will be announced soon. His time on the sidelines was a frustrating one, with the Italian saying that the lack of clarity from RCS Sport in sacking him had created questions in some people’s minds about whether or not he was involved in the fraud.
He said that this affected him in his efforts to find a new job. As the company had not given its reasons for dropping him, he claims that his reputation has been unfairly tarnished.
“It is not about the money, it is not about the fraud, it is just about the manner in which I was fired. I can go to the judge and say that they did something really wrong,” he said.
“Firstly, I was suspended without a reason. Secondly, I was fired without a reason. Thirdly, it was done in a way that everybody knew about it.
“Sometimes a company can fire a manager if they don’t trust him any more, but if they do it, it is a really private matter. But RCS did that in a very open and public way and that is very incorrect. They cannot do that. That is the point.”
The hearing on July 29th will be the first step in the unfair dismissal case. He said that he is ‘really curious’ to see if RCS Sport will go there after eight months’ silence, and if they will clarify their position.
“I cannot believe that they kept silent for so long. They never spoke since the first of October, and I cannot accept that. I hope that now in front of the court, they will say something.
“I want people to know that I didn’t do anything wrong. I was taking care of the Giro, working to make it bigger, to take care of the company. It was not fair, and what they did was illegal.
“If they think they can do that because they are big and they have big power, they took on the wrong man because I won’t shut up. I want justice.”