October 9, 2005

Bank of Italy chief to face prosecutors Mon-source

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) - Bank of Italy Governor Antonio Fazio will
be questioned on Monday by magistrates investigating him for
abuse of office in a bank takeover battle, a legal source said.

Fazio was placed under official investigation in August
over accusations that he was unfairly biased in favor of an
Italian bank that was bidding against a Dutch competitor for
control of domestic lender Antonveneta.

Fazio has denied any wrongdoing and resisted calls from
across the political spectrum for his resignation.

Being placed under investigation does not imply guilt and
does not mean charges will necessarily be brought.

The legal source told Reuters that Fazio and his lawyer
were due at the Rome prosecutors' office on Monday morning and
would answer questions from Chief Rome Prosecutor Giovanni
Ferrara and Achille Toro, who is leading the bank probe.

There was no immediate comment from the Bank of Italy.

Fazio's lawyer Franco Coppi had advised him to exercise his
right to shun any request for questioning, warning that his
answers would be leaked, distorted and taken out of context.

But Fazio has apparently turned down the advice and has
moved to respond to the prosecutors' queries.

On Saturday, Coppi deposited a defense document with the
prosecutors. He declined to say what was in it, but local media
said it probably outlined Fazio's handling of the Antonveneta
bid, which he has always maintained complied with the rules.

The autocratic bank chief has been in the spotlight since
wiretaps were leaked to the press in July, showing his
extremely warm relations with the then CEO of Banca Popolare
Italiana, who wanted to buy control of Antonveneta.

As central bank governor, Fazio oversees the Italian
financial sector and is meant to be an impartial arbiter. But
the wiretaps showed both him and his wife advising Pop
Italiana's Gianpiero Fiorani during the bid phase.

Fazio also overruled the central bank's own technical
department, which had advised against letting the much smaller
Pop Italiana bid for Antonveneta.

Fiorani resigned as CEO in mid-September after he was
placed under investigation in Rome for possible crimes ranging
from insider trading to market-rigging.

Pop Italiana has withdrawn its bid for Antonveneta, leaving
the way clear for Dutch bank ABN AMRO.

After questioning Fazio, prosecutors will have several
weeks to decide whether or not to press charges. Any such move
would have to be approved by a preliminary judge.

Fazio has never spoken publicly about the scandal and would
almost certainly enter and leave the prosecutors' office
without talking to the press.

The Bank of Italy's superior council, the only body which
can fire Fazio, last month expressed confidence in him and
although the government has signaled its disapproval of the
governor, it cannot legally force him to resign.