Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the legality of Parmalat’s May 2012 $904m intra-group acquisition of Lactalis America Group (LAG).
The announcement came within days of reports that two minority shareholders had written to the Parmalat board, voicing concerns that management had been acting in the interests of the firm’s majority shareholder, French dairy giant Lactalis.
Lactalis, Parmalat and LAG are all owned by BSA International – a factor that has previously led to suggestions that the transaction was merely a way for the parent company to move money between its businesses.
The Italian stock exchange regulator, CONSOB, and Italian industry minister Corrado Passera have also called for an inquiry into the deal.
Prosecutors in Parmalat’s home town, Parma, announced that the investigation could lead to convictions for “misappropriation of funds diverted from Parmalat executives in favour of Lactalis.”
Parmalat has denied any wrong-doing in relation to the LAG deal, claiming that the acquisition was completed in a “transparent way.”
“Parmalat S.p.A takes note of the statements ascribed by the media to the Prosecutor of Parma on an investigation concerning the acquisition by Parmalat of the Lactalis American Group (LAG), which, for the time being, does not see any enquired person nor any charges,” said a statement from the Parma-based company.
“Parmalat confirms that the transaction was carried out in the interests of the company in a transparent way, as well as in accordance with the terms and the provisions of all applicable laws.”
“Parmalat, however, remains totally at disposal of the Authorities,” the statement added.
The Parma-based company has also been forced to deny reports that it is preparing to delist its shares.
Italian financial publication Il Sole 24 Ore reported last week that BSA International was considering the delisting of Parmalat from the Milan stock exchange.
“Following Consob’s request, Parmalat S.p.A communicates that, on the basis of its current knowledge, the news and rumours related to a possible delisting of the Company’s shares are completely unfounded,” said a statement from Parmalat.
Last week, DairyReporter.com reported that shareholders Gamco Asset Management and Fidelity Worldwide Investment had written to the Parmalat stating their concerns that the LAG deal was completed exclusively in the interest of BSA International.
Speaking with DairyReporter.com last week, Parmalat spokesman Fabio Caporizzi declined to discuss the contents of the shareholder letters and rubbished the concerns.
“Parmalat cannot comment on the opinion of one its shareholders,” said Caporizzi, adding: “The acquisition of Lactalis America Group was a strategic acquisition for Parmalat because it gave us a bigger market in the US and Latin America.”