In an open letter to the media Michele Acquarone has revealed the scope of the battles he's had with Giro d'Italia and Milan-San Remo organisers, RCS, to clear his name. Acquarone was alleged to have overseen large scale fraud and embezzlement in his time at the helm of the Giro d'Italia. He was sacked shortly after by the organisation.
By
Cycling Central

7 Apr 2015 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:34 PM


Below Acquarone tells his story. Cycling Central has removed some parts as they were potentially defamatory.

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, San Remo, 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 per cent cycling and 40 per cent other sports. In five years the turnover of RCS Sport grew from 25 to 47 million Euros.

2. 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 per cent of my time to cycling (90 per cent 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 16 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. That is, 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 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 27 September, the parent company RCS MediaGroup decided to change the RCS Sport's organisational structure. Mr Taranto, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer of RCS MediaGroup) became 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 though formally RCS had changed my role 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. Then they asked me to go to the Worlds in Florence to communicate these changes to our stakeholders.

5. On 30 September the RCS MediaGroup's Board of Directors met and decided to suspend and (then) fire me. On 1 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. I was the perfect scapegoat. In the last thirteen months I took all the flak 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 became 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, there are no answers.

8. I have this black stain on my reputation and it's almost impossible to find a new job. After being sacked 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 realised 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 every race organiser or pro-team I've approached. In the other sports the reception is the same. Nationally and internationally.

9. 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.

10. The RCS MediaGroup lawyers instead are saying that it doesn't matter if somebody forged signatures, documents and statements. They claim 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 per cent mine.

11. Anyway now I'm fine. After a year I've digested 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 okay. 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.

Ciao,

Michele.