Former Giro d’Italia chief Michele Acquarone has strongly challenged RCS Sport’s claims that he authorised the payments of millions of euros, accusing persons unknown of forging his signature and saying that the payments should have been picked up by the company’s internal controls.
On Tuesday an unfair dismissal case he took over his firing by RCS Sport began in a Milan court; Acquarone attended with his lawyers while those representing RCS Sport were represented by theirs.
“The judge asked us if there was any change in finding an agreement. RCS said no, they want to go on,” he told CyclingTips.
“We told the judge that we found many fake signatures on their statements of defence. We said we cannot accept it as those signatures were forged; in response, the judge said that it was clear the case was a complex one. “He said, ‘it is going to be very complicated as it is a very tough situation.’”
“I said [to the judge] that I did nothing wrong, that all the signatures are fake. RCS said that I was responsible for what has happened.”
The judge set the date for the next hearing as being October 1. “I will be there,” Acquarone vowed. “I have nothing to hide. I will just say what was going on, what happened, and I hope that even this trial can help me and everybody to know what really took place.”
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 of last year 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.
No date has yet been set for the defamation case but round one of the unfair dismissal hearing took place on Tuesday.
Asked what types of documents bore the signatures he insists have been forged, Acquarone said that they were directly relating to payouts of large sums of money.
“These documents are authorisations to pay. There were something like 100 different documents with the fake signatures for something like ten million euro,” he told CyclingTips. “It is a huge sum of money. A lot of different documents. My signature is totally different, I even posted it online [see image above] because I want people to know. I tweeted my real signature and the fake one – everyone can see they are different.”
He said that the payments were made out to various different people, and that RCS had never given him the opportunity to confirm or deny the signature on them was accurate.
“When I was suspended on the 1st of October, I started to ask RCS what was wrong. I sent them many letters…I wanted to know what was going on. ‘Why was I suspended? Can we have an interview about that?’
“Then I had an interview with their internal auditors. We spoke about many things, but they didn’t speak about my signatures on these documents. I said, ‘is there something – do you have my signatures somewhere? Can I see it?’
“They said, ‘we cannot speak, we cannot speak.’ RCS never showed me those documents, and last week was the first time that I saw them. I couldn’t believe it because the signatures were so fake.
So if they say that I am responsible for that that because money was going out to different people and I authorised that – I never did it.”
Acquarone said that the RCS Sport investigation pinpointed irregular dealings dating back as far back as 2006. He pointed out that he moved to RCS Sport in 2009. The documents he was shown pertained to 2011, 2012 and last season.
He said that he didn’t know who signed those documents, but argues they should have been picked up.
“In RCS we have so many control levels – we have the corporate administration, the corporate controllers, the corporate finance, the corporate people working with the banks.
“Money was going out with no controls at all. I cannot believe it. Okay, it is my fake signature, but they just needed to call me to say, ‘is it your signature?’ and I would say, ‘no, there is something wrong with that.’ Yet nothing happened for years and millions disappeared.
“I cannot accept that they say it is may fault, because I didn’t know anything about these payments. They paid out so much money without any control. That is unbelievable. Really unbelievable.”
Acquarone added that the police were doing their own investigation into the reported disappearance of millions of euro from RCS Sport. He said that he hoped that investigation would conclude soon, recognising that if a conclusion was reached and he was cleared of blame, that it would make his unfair dismissal case a lot simpler to win.
“I just hope that something comes out before the end of this year. That would be great,” he said. “But I don’t know if it will take one hour or ten years.”
He is also taking a defamation case against RCS Sport over the damage his reputation has suffered. He said that a date is not yet decided, but that it would likely start after the police investigation had concluded.
For now he said that he had to remain patient. “I read somewhere that time is the best friend of truth. I am still young, I have time,” he stated.
“I am curious as to what happened, and I hope justice is done. What happened was not good for me, for the Giro d’Italia or for cycling, and we need the truth.”