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Siena Probes Criminal Association That Defrauded Paschi

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Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Italy’s finance police searched premises in cities including Milan and Siena as prosecutors probe a criminal association that defrauded Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA of at least 47 million euros ($65 million).

The police were notifying eight individuals including Monte Paschi’s former finance head Gianluca Baldassarri of a ban from traveling outside Italy as part of today’s searches, according to a police official, who asked not to be identified because of internal policy. A lawyer for Baldassarri declined to comment.

The group allegedly defrauded Monte Paschi and other unidentified parties for as much as 90 million euros, according to a court official, who asked not to be identified before the searches are completed. The suspects operated through dealings that involved a broker, Enigma, that was based in Milan and London. Fabrizio Cerasani, founder of Enigma and also a subject of the probe, declined to comment when reached on his mobile phone.

The investigation is one of several by Siena prosecutors into former managers of Monte Paschi, Italy’s third-biggest bank. Baldassarri, former Chairman Giuseppe Mussari and former General Manager Antonio Vigni are on trial for obstructing regulators by allegedly hiding a document that showed how the lender hid losses from its accounts.

Market Manipulation

Prosecutors have also accused former Paschi executives of market manipulation and falsifying market filings when they arranged financings for Monte Paschi’s acquisition of Banca Antonveneta SpA.

If convicted, members of a criminal association, groups of three or more individuals who conspire to commit more than one crime, would face jail sentences of at least one year for belonging to the association, and longer for any proven crimes.

Siena prosecutors accuse a total of 11 suspects of orchestrating trades through Enigma in which they allegedly fixed prices that weren’t at market rates and kept profits for themselves, a court filing shows.

A substantial part of the planning took place in Britain, Malta, San Marino and Singapore, the document shows, and Enigma’s operations were the subject of concern among British authorities, the filing shows, without identifying the regulators involved.

Mussari and Vigni have denied obstructing regulators in the trial.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elisa Martinuzzi in Milan at emartinuzzi@bloomberg.net; Sergio Di Pasquale in Milan at sdipasquale1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net

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