Former Qantas director Corinne Namblard, who resigned in February, will face an Italian court in October over bid rigging and fraud charges relating to the proposed expansion of Siena airport.
The German-born French and Canadian citizen, who is now a resident of South Australia, was appointed to the Qantas board in 2011 after a 10-year stint as chief executive officer of Luxembourg-based Galaxy, a transport equity fund.
Galaxy, along with Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) bank and several other partners, backed a plan to privatise and vastly expand Siena’s airport to cater for hundreds of thousands of travellers a year, up from about 2000. Siena, with 55,000 inhabitants, is a company town, and the company is MPS, Italy’s oldest and third largest (31,000 employees) bank. For decades it has financed local cultural and sporting activities, from museums to the renowned horse races in the town hall square as well as A-grade soccer and basketball teams. MPS represented a coalition of interests from the leftist Democratic Party, which controls the Town Council, to Catholics and Masons.
Namblard had an enthusiastic reception when she explained to a public meeting in Siena the plans for an enlarged airport. Elegant Namblard, who travelled by limousine, bowled over the locals with her bling. She was dubbed Miss Galaxy.
Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox
But in the nearby town of Sovicelle, a village of 10,000 surrounded by Romanesque churches, vineyards, historic farmhouses and woods, it was a different story. Residents formed a protest committee, and Namblard received a hostile reception when she revealed the airport plans there in October 2007.
The committee supplied documentation to the Ministry of Transport about alleged irregularities in the airport plans. It claimed Galaxy, along with MPS, was involved in bid rigging and fraud. The head of the ministry’s airports and air transport office seemed on the verge of acting on the documentation, but he was then replaced.
The committee went to the magistrature, which tapped phones and seized documents relating to alleged shady dealings between MPS and Galaxy. The airport enlargement plans were dropped.
Seventeen of those involved in the enlargement plans were investigated, and nine, including Namblard and Giuseppe Mussari, the president of MPS, are to be tried.
Helen Ampt, a Melbourne University science graduate and Sovicelle who is part of the citizens’ committee that triggered the investigation, says she emailed Qantas at the time of Namblard’s appointment to ask why it had not mentioned that she was under investigation on a criminal charge. There was no response. She also wrote to Senator Nick Xenophon, whose secretary responded, but before the exchanges were completed the story broke in The Australian Financial Review in February this year.
When The AFR revealed Namblard was under investigation in Italy, she said she was part of an enquiry. She said she had told the headhunter who had found her for Qantas about the enquiry, but Qantas seemed to be in the dark. Documents from the proceedings reveal she was charged shortly after June 2012, when the prosecutor forwarded the case to the committal judge. Edward Mura, a Sydney lawyer in Rome, has confirmed copies of the charges would have been served on all the accused a short time later.
Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star Movement, which achieved a plurality in the last election, says the MPS investigation findings will hit the national Democratic Party like an atomic bomb. Wealthy Grillo is an small MPS shareholder and tore into the bank’s new management at the last shareholders’ meeting for allegedly hiding its losses. On April 5 he predicted that other directors of MPS would “be suicided” (one has already committed suicide) and demanded the bank be nationalised.
*Desmond O’Grady has been Vatican correspondent for The Washington Post and The US National Catholic Reporter