Telecom Italia has finally published its twice-delayed final accounts for 2009. It has also restated its results all the way back to 2005 after flagging-up "certain anomalies regarding the actual existence of transactions and traffic" at Sparkle, its wholesale broadband division. Martyn Warwick reports.
Meanwhile, the Italian authorities are investigating what they are calling "tax fraud and money-laundering crimes". As Shakespeare had it, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Telecom Italia simultaneously released an updated three-year stretegic plan and announced that it has set aside €507 million in contingency to cover the costs associated with the investigation into allegations of criminal conspiracy that have engulfed Sparkle.
The Italian authorities are investigating the actions of a number of former directors and other erstwhile senior staff as well current employees of Telecom Italia Sparkle amidst lurid allegations of Mafia connections in tax evasion, cross-border criminal conspiracies, international money-laundering, the reinvestmet of "rinsed" money made from criminal activities in legitimate companies and also of registering assets under aliases.
It is believed that investigators were alerted to possible malfeasance when it was discovered that some documents were signed by a certain "Al Capone", a "Salvatore Luciano" (what a lucky chap he turned out to be) and one "Vito Corleone."
Also in the frame is one of Sparkle's competitors, Fastweb. It is said the scam revolved around fake invoices that allowed certain Sparkle and Fastweb customers to avoid the payment of VAT. Up to €2 billion of revenues is involved.
Telecom Italia's latest balance sheet shows revenues of €27.2 billion for 2009, down 6 per cent on 2008. However net income was €1.6 billion, down by a massive 33 per cent on 2008.
The carrier is also mired in debt, it owed €34.7 billion at the end of last year, an increase of €708 million on on 2008.
Given these immense debts, Telecom Italia's "updated" strategic plan for 2010 through 2012, seems remarkably unambitious. All the company will say is that it wants to get debt levels down to “less than €28 billion in three years time."
In the meantime, prosecutors in Rome have issued arrest warrants for 56 people.
The details of the alleged offences are in relation to premium telecoms services carried on the the Sparkle network and concern transactions with a variety of small carriers elsewhere in Europe.
Forced into some sort of delayed response by the prosecutor's actions Telecom Italia says its own enquiries show "certain anomalies regarding the actual existence of transactions and traffic, in addition to the progress and routing of traffic itself, to such an extent that the company now believes that these operations were subject to errors".
It was the discovery of these "errors" that led to the telco delaying the reporting of its 2009 performance and the restatement of figures back to 2005. However, the carrier has done so "without acknowledging any liability whatsoever".
And what about Fastweb in all this? Well, the Sparkle rival is now an ISP 80 per cent owned by Swisscom. It bought its interest in 2007, well after the strange events that have led to the investigation. A spokesperson for Fastweb said, “It must be very clear that Fastweb is not involved with anything vaguely associated with the Mafia. It's against company policy.”
Wow. Against company policy. That's reassuring.
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