THE CANADIAN PRESS. December 13, 2007
MONTREAL–Lino Saputo, founder of Canada's largest dairy-processing company, is inviting the RCMP to talk to him about allegations linking him to the Italian Mafia.
"I invite them to come and see me so that, once and for all, I can clear away the cloud hanging over me," he told The Canadian Press in an interview yesterday.
Saputo, still chair of Saputo Inc., said Italian or Canadian authorities have never asked to talk with him.
Published reports yesterday said the billionaire is part of an investigation by Italian police into an alleged Mafia money-laundering scheme worth some $600 million.
Saputo said when he read the news "it felt like a bomb fell on my back. I'm really upset and really saddened by what's happened."
A recent article in the Italian magazine l'Espresso, co-written by Canadian Antonio Nicaso, said Mariano Turrisi was arrested by police on Oct. 22 in connection with a plan to launder $600 million for Vito Rizzuto, the alleged head of the Montreal Mafia.
In a wiretapped conversation, Turrisi discusses "the king of cheese" with another suspect who was arrested by Italian authorities.
Saputo said he doesn't know Turrisi, has "never met, never seen and never talked" with him.
"And personally, I never had anything do with Vito Rizzuto, neither commercially nor socially," he added. "We've met in a couple of restaurants, at a couple of receptions and I have very rarely met him in a social situation."
Turrisi registered a company in Florida called Saputo Enterprises.
"We have nothing to do with this company," Saputo said.
Italian investigators have asked the organized crime unit of the RCMP for information about Saputo. But the Mounties won't comment on the Italian investigation because the case involving Rizzuto is still before the courts. The reputed Mafia kingpin is serving 10 years in a U.S. penitentiary for the 1981 killings of three Mafia captains in New York City.
Saputo Inc. shares dropped 6.25 per cent in Toronto after the reports, falling $1.87 to $28.05.
" ... I'm a victim. Someone is using my name. ... "
Montreal cheese magnate denies link to alleged Mafia scheme
Italian police allege Saputo was to buy two companies for $600-million, which they say is an inflated price
TU THANH HA AND LORENZO TONDO
GLOBE AND MAIL, DECEMBER 12, 2007
MONTREAL, ROME — ... Italian police arrested Rome-based entrepreneur Mariano Turrisi last month in connection with an alleged plan to launder $600-million (U.S.) for Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal Mafia.
Mr. Turrisi heads two companies that promote Italian goods, Made in Italy SpA and Made in Italy Inc. He and his wife, Brenda, are also officers of a company registered in West Palm Beach, Fla., Saputo Enterprise Corp.
Italian police allege that Mr. Turrisi was selling the Made in Italy group at an inflated price, with Mr. Saputo eventually taking possession through the Florida-based Saputo Enterprise Corp.
In an interview, Mr. Saputo said he has never met Mr. Turrisi or done business with him.
"This makes no sense. Even if it only involved one buck, it would make no sense," said the founder of Saputo Inc., Canada's largest dairy-processing company.
"I'm a victim. Someone is using my name." The allegations were first reported last month by the Milan weekly l'Espresso.
In a written statement e-mailed from the Milan office of the Nucleo Polizia Tributaria, the Italian fiscal police reiterated the allegations.
"The investigation has shown that the necessary sum to finance such a company purchase on the part of Saputo is completely disproportionate when compared with the assets of the two 'Made in Italy' companies," the e-mail said.
It added that the Italian police have wiretaps of Mr. Turrisi and another arrested suspect, Rodolfo Fedi, talking about the involvement of "the cheese king" in the transaction, which the police interpreted as a reference to Mr. Saputo.
Mr. Saputo said police never contacted him.
"I'm a victim of my reputation. Saputo is a successful company, so anybody could use my name without my knowledge."
The e-mail from Italian police said the Polizia Tributaria have been working with Canadian officials since 2004 and have sent to Canada two separate requests for assistance.
The first request brought "important information" about Mr. Turrisi and Mr. Rizzuto, the Polizia Tributaria said in another e-mail.
The e-mail said Canada has not responded to the second request.
A draft copy of that request shows it is addressed to UMECO, the French acronym for a Canadian law-enforcement unit fighting organized crime.
"The Financial Police has intercepted conversations from which we understand that there is a current operation to sell the companies Made in Italy SpA and Made in Italy Inc. to the Canadian entrepreneur Lino Saputo for the sum of $600-million, of which 300 would go directly to the family headed by Vito Rizzuto," the document says.
The request concludes: "As such, it would be extremely useful to obtain from UMECO information that proves the link between Saputo and Rizzuto."
Mr. Saputo's name also appears in a 150-page arrest warrant and accompanying police affidavit issued by a penal tribunal in Rome.
The affidavit says that Mr. Turrisi was wiretapped speaking to Mr. Rizzuto in respectful tone, saying for example, "I kiss your hand" after greeting him on the phone.
"Vito Rizzuto is the real and hidden dominus of the operation dealing with the sale of Made in Italy to the Saputo group," the affidavit said.
Identified in court documents as Canada's most powerful Mafia boss, Mr. Rizzuto is serving a 10-year sentence in the United States after pleading guilty to his role in a triple murder. Italian authorities allege that Mr. Rizzuto kept control of the money-laundering operation even from behind bars.
Mr. Saputo said he doesn't know Mr. Rizzuto. He did say in the interview that he had attended the 1992 funeral of a man identified in court documents as a mobster, Giuseppe (Joe) LoPresti.
"Listen, we can't be accused by association," he said.
Born in Sicily, Mr. Saputo came to Canada in 1952. His company is publicly traded on the Toronto Stock
Exchange, and while he has ceded daily operations to his son, Lino Jr., he remains the company's chairman.
He is on the Forbes list of billionaires, as Canada's 14th wealthiest man, with assets of $1.4-billion.
Lorenzo Tondo is a freelance writer
Saputo forced to fight old battle
BERTRAND MAROTTE AND TU THANH HA
Globe and Mail Update, December 12, 2007
... Lino took over from his father in 1969. A series of acquisitions aimed at diversifying the company followed. Among the more prominent were U.S. dairy firm Stella Foods Inc. in 1997, Quebec snack-cake maker Culinar Inc. in 1999 and Canadian dairy Agrifoods International Co-operative Ltd. in 2002.
Saputo has grown to become one of the top 20 dairy processors in the world, the biggest dairy company in Canada and among the top five cheese producers in the United States.
Among the assets in Mr. Saputo's family holding company – Gestion Jolina Inc. – are the exclusive Golf Saint-Raphaël course near Montreal and extensive real estate.
Mr. Saputo handed over the chief executive officer duties to his son Lino Jr. in 2004 but remains the chairman.
Years of mob controversy and the exacting demands of the food business contributed to his driving his company ever harder, Mr. Saputo said in an interview.
“You know, in the food industry, you're vulnerable … We had to be better than what the law required. We were always vigilant.”
His friend and former banker, André Bérard, says he is outraged by the latest allegations. Mr. Saputo is a “great man who has lived an impeccable life as a citizen and generous contributor to society,” the former chairman and CEO of National Bank of Canada, said in an interview.
This time, the unwanted publicity comes from the Italian police, who want to find out if Mr. Saputo is linked to Rome-based entrepreneur Mariano Turrisi – arrested last month – in a plan to launder $600-million (U.S.) for Vito Rizzuto, the godfather of the Montreal Mafia.
Italian police allege Mr. Turrisi wanted to sell two of his companies at an inflated price to a West Palm Beach, Fla.-registered company named Saputo Enterprise Corp.
Mr. Saputo denies any connection to Mr. Turrisi.
He said he has not been contacted by Canadian police but would like to meet with them in hopes of clearing the air.
He is dismayed that the old stories continue to crop up.
Accounts of his late father agreeing to sell part of his business in 1964 to New York mobster Joseph (Joe Bananas) Bonanno are false, Mr. Saputo insists.
“We're talking about a letter my father wrote inviting Mr. Bonanno to take part in the activities of the Saputo company.
“But my father didn't know Mr. Bonanno at the time. He knew his associate, Mr. John DiBella, and at DiBella's request, my father wrote that letter. But when my father found out who Bonanno was, there was no transaction, nothing further happened. We were victims.”
For years, however, U.S. authorities believed that the predecessor company to Saputo Inc. had mob connections.
The Pennsylvania Crime Commission in 1980 said it had established direct links between G. Saputo & Sons Ltd. and the Joseph Bonanno criminal organization.
In 1980, the company was refused a milk licence to make cheese at a plant near Utica, N.Y., based on evidence purporting to show a long-standing relationship with Mr. Bonanno.
In 1978, Saputo Inc. was prevented from opening a mozzarella plant in Vermont on suspicion of being in cahoots with the Mafia.
Mr. Saputo says he will fight fiercely for the good names of his family and company.
“I've always tried to be as straight and honest as possible in my life,” he said.
“You could leave a pile of money to your children but if you're not leaving them a good reputation … we owe them a good reputation.” ...