Former Giro d’Italia director Michele Acquarone has come forward with an open letter to the media that details the struggle he has faced to try and clear his name after being dismissed from his position at RCS Sport a year ago for allegedly playing a role in the disappearance of €13 million from the company.
RCS Media Group, owners of RCS Sport that manages sporting events including the Giro d’Italia, Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche and the Tour of Lombardy, fired Acquarone from his role as Chief Operating Officer last October after discovering the misappropriation of funds. It was reported that the funds were slowly withdrawn from RCS Sport accounts over several years through fraudulent bank statements.
RCS is suggesting that Acquarone should have had knowledge of the financial situation. It was reported that RCS provided him with proof of signed documents that authorised millions of Euro in transactions from RCS Media Group accounts to minor accounts for RCS Sport, accounts that he was legally responsible for.
In a letter to the media, Acquarone wrote that on September 16, 2013 an RCS Media Group control officer showed him a copy of a bank statement that looked forged and said the company had proof that signatures were forged on official documents but that that was the first time he had ever seen an RCS bank statement.
“It was the first time I saw an RCS bank statement and it was the first time I went to the bank on behalf of RCS,” Acquarone wrote. “The bank’s Director told us that on April 2012 she personally warned the Financial officers at RCS Mediagroup that a staggering amount of money (cash withdrawals) was gradually disappearing from the accounts of RCS Sport. We were shocked. We immediately gave the internal alarm.
Acquarone has always maintained that he is innocent and denies any wrongdoing. He also believes that RCS Media Group has used him as a scapegoat to cover up an uncomfortable situation.
“The RCS MediaGroup lawyers instead are saying that it doesn’t matter if somebody forged signatures, documents and statements," Acquarone wrote. "They say (they lie) that the Financial and Management control were under my responsibility and I have the “culpa in vigilando”. They say that I was the Managing Director so the responsibility is 100% mine.
“The RCS Media Group's strategy is quite clear,” he wrote. “RCS has to protect its huge core business (the publishing business, 1,3 billion Euros) and it can’t let the Financial Department of the parent company (the heart of the company) be involved in a big scandal. So they had to play dirty. I was the perfect scapegoat. In the last thirteen months I took all the shit on me and nobody ever talked about the parent company involvement.”
Acquarone is not under investigation by the Italian police but he questions whether the investigation into the company’s misappropriation of funds is still on-going.
“Millions and millions of Euros disappeared cash from the bank and there are no guilty people and not even suspected people officially. No news at all,” Acquarone wrote. “The last news is still ‘money disappeared, Acquarone suspended’. It’s so frustrating because there is no escape. Can we call it a perfect Italian job?”
Acquarone has filed a lawsuit against the company to try prove his innocence. He stated that over the last year he has spent nearly all his savings, which partially went to legal fees, and that his financial situation is getting critical. He also wrote that he has been turned down from several job openings that he has applied for at the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, other race organizations and professional cycling teams.
“If I’m not welcome in Aigle I’m not welcome in cycling,” he wrote.
RCS declined to make immediate comment on the letter when contacted by Cyclingnews.
Read the original letter
before everything will be done and I’ll definitely disappear from the cycling history, there are a few things that we must clear. It’s quite a long story, please, take your time to read it carefully.
1. Since September 2008 I was the Managing Director of RCS Sport. My commitment was to grow the sports business. With my team I had to take care of RCS Sport’s properties (Giro, Sanremo, Lombardia, Tirreno, Strade Bianche, Roma Maxima, Milano Marathon) and develop new partnerships and business (i.e. RCS Sport managed the sponsorship rights of the Italian Football Federation, Inter Milan, Italian Basketball Federation; RCS Sport managed some events of the Basketball Italian League, the Italian Open in partnership with the Italian Golf Federation). That’s what I was fully committed with. 60% cycling and 40% other sports. In 5 years the turnover of RCS Sport grew from 25 to 47 million Euros.
3. Since July 2011 RCS Mediagroup entrusted me with the Direction of cycling (and of the Giro d’Italia). I had zero experience and zero network in cycling. I had to study a lot and work hard to replace Zomegnan. So I dedicated 80% of my time to cycling (90% Giro). Everything was working fine. the business was growing and the Giro (and all the other properties) was getting bigger and more important.
3. On the 16th of September 2013 an RCS MediaGroup control officer showed me a copy of a bank statement that looked forged. He was very confused and worried and he asked me to accompany him to the bank and we had proof the some official documents were forged. It was the first time I saw an RCS bank statement and it was the first time I went to the bank on behalf of RCS. The bank’s Director told us that on April 2012 she personally warned the Financial officers at RCS Mediagroup that a staggering amount of money (cash withdrawals) was gradually disappearing from the accounts of RCS Sport. We were shocked. We immediately gave the internal alarm.
4. RCS Sport had NO financial areas. RCS Sport had no Financial dept, Treasury dept, Administrative dept., Management Control dept, Tax dept, Legal and Company Business dept, HR dept, internal audit dept. All these areas where managed and controlled by the parent company RCS MediaGroup. RCS Sport was just a commercial-organizative branch and the RCS Sport CEO reported to the Publishing Manager at RCS Mediagroup. So the parent company RCS Mediagroup managed the crisis and an audit started. At that moment no one had any questions to me.
4. Ten days later, on the 27th of September, the parent company RCS MediaGroup decided to change the RCS Sport's organization. Mr Taranto, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer of RCS MediaGroup) became also the new CEO of RCS Sport. I was nominated COO of RCS Sport (with the commitment to carry on the sports business as I did in past years) and a new CFO of RCS Sport, reporting directly to the CEO, would have been nominated soon. That same day Mr Taranto called all the staff of RCS Sport and said publicly that the change would serve to ensure greater financial control to RCS Sport. He said that formally changed my role but in essence it would not change my job and that I could continue to manage the business and the people of RCS Sport as I always did with great satisfaction by RCS MediaGroup. Then they asked me to go to the Worlds in Florence to communicate it to our stakeholders.
5. On the 30th of September the RCS MediaGroup’s Board of Directors met and decided to suspend and (then) fire me. On the 1st of October the news had been public and RCS let people understand that I was guilty. “Many millions of Euros disappeared, the Giro Director suspended”. In a blink of an eye my reputation was totally destroyed. I couldn’t even defend myself because I was still an employee at RCS and I couldn't publicly speak without the RCS authorization. I was trapped.
6. The RCS MediaGroup's strategy is quite clear. RCS has to protect its huge core business (the publishing business, 1,3 billion Euros) and it can’t let the Financial Department of the parent company (the heart of the company) be involved in a big scandal. So they had to play dirty. I was the perfect scapegoat. In the last thirteen months I took all the shit on me and nobody ever talked about the parent company involvement.
7. Now it’s been more than a year and nothing changed. Media never investigated and after a
while they uninterested in the story. With their silence media played into the hands of RCS. Police are slowly investigating (I wonder if they are still doing it). Millions and millions of Euros disappeared cash from the bank and there are no guilty people and not even suspected people officially. No news at all. The last news is still “money disappeared, Acquarone suspended”. It’s so frustrating because there is no escape. Can we call it a perfect Italian job?
What’s about me? In the last year I spent all my savings to feed my (3) kids, afford the monthly mortgage payment, pay my lawyers and now my personal financial situation is getting critical.
1. I have this black stain on my reputation and it’s almost impossible to find a new job. After being violently erased by RCS I was isolated. There were several open positions at the UCI within which I could continue to do my job, but all my requests were ignored and i realized that I was not welcome in Aigle. If I’m not welcome in Aigle I’m not welcome in cycling, in fact I’ve also been ignored by any race organizers or pro-team. In the other sports the music is the same. Nationally and internationally.
2. So I mounted a legal challenge of my dismissal to clear my reputation. The judge will have to decide if I have any responsibility and so if my dismissal was legitimate. I’m sure I have zero responsibilities. I did my job in the best possible way. the fraud was committed away from me. I never managed the finance, I had zero connections with the bank, the Management Control was in the parent company and in my position I would never have been able to prevent that the fraud was committed. All the responsibilities are definitely in RCS MediaGroup because they are the only one who always managed and controlled money and banks.
The RCS MediaGroup lawyers instead are saying that it doesn’t matter if somebody forged signatures, documents and statements. They say (they lie) that the Financial and Management control were under my responsibility and I have the “culpa in vigilando”. They say that I was the Managing Director so the responsibility is 100% mine.
3. It’s not RCS versus a former employee. Here it’s RCS protecting itself keeping the scandal far from the heart of the company. They don’t want the truth to go out. They just want their “scapegoat strategy” to keep on working. So RCS hired the number one labor lawyers in Italy. I just hope the judge will not be impressed by these big names. Do you know the story of David and Goliath? Well, it’s just a legend. In real life big fishes eat small fishes. Always.
Anyway now I'm fine. After a year I metabolized what happened to me. Big tragedies in life can happen, I didn’t suffer a big tragedy, I just lost my job (and my good reputation), but I still have my wife and my kids and we all are in good health. My conscience is ok. I know I always worked honestly for the good of RCS, for the good of the Giro and for the good of cycling. I know I did well to cycling and I know that if I stayed I could have helped cycling to evolve and grow much more than I did.
Of course I will go on fighting for my rights, but life goes on and I still smile when I watch my future. I have no money, I have no job, my reputation has been heavily damaged... but I still have my heart and my brain and I’ll find my way. RCS can take my job and my money, but they will never get my future.