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Top executives arrested in Italy wind farm probe

November 12, 2009

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

published on FT on 12 november 2009

Italian finance police, mounting an operation codenamed “Gone with the wind”, said on Wednesday they had arrested two of the country’s most prominent businessmen in the wind energy sector on charges of fraud and are investigating their sales of wind farms to foreign companies.

Oreste Vigorito, head of the IVPC energy company and president of Italy’s National Association of Wind Energy, was arrested on Tuesday in Naples. Vito Nicastri, a Sicilian business associate, was arrested in Alcamo, Sicily. Two other men were arrested in Sicily and the Naples area, while 11 others were charged but not arrested. Police said the charges related to fraud involved in obtaining public subsidies to construct wind farms.

IVPC, a leading constructor and operator of wind farms in Italy, did not respond to calls for comment. Mr Vigorito is also well known as president of the Benevento football club.

“Gone with the wind”, an operation mounted by the finance ministry’s anti-fraud police, started in 2007 and began by blocking public subsidies worth 9.4m euros granted by the ministry for economic development. In 2008 police confiscated seven wind farms with 185 turbines in Sicily linked to IVPC.

Anti-mafia prosecutors in Sicily have launched a parallel investigation. The Financial Times was told in April that a large number of wind farms had been built with public subsidies but had never functioned. Some are visible on the hills above Corleone, a known mafia stronghold.

Police said on Wednesday they had sent requests for documentation to five foreign companies – two in the Netherlands and three in Spain – that were linked to IVPC.

Other companies, said to be Italian affiliates of IVPC, were being investigated in Ireland and the UK. Police also said that 12 companies were under investigation in Italy, including a group called variations of IP Maestrale. Italian media have reported that the IP Maestrale group of wind farms are owned by or linked to International Power of the UK.

International Power of the UK, the largest operator of wind farms in Italy in 2008 with a market share of about 15 per cent, acquired in 2007 its Maestrale portfolio of wind farms for 1.8bn euros from Trinergy, an Irish company which had bought them from IVPC two years earlier. Some had been developed by Mr Nicastri, although IP told the FT in April it had no direct relationship with him.

An International Power spokesperson in London said on Wednesday: “We are aware of the arrests made in Italy yesterday. Criminal proceedings in Italy are conducted on a confidential basis and we will not make any comment on either the arrests or the individuals involved at this time.”

Mr Nicastri told the FT in Alcamo in April that he had developed the “majority” of Sicily’s wind farms, arranging land, financing and official permits. He had then sold some of the projects for construction to IVPC for further sale to foreign companies. All were functioning, he said.

Italy has seen a proliferation of wind farm projects in recent years, in part thanks to generous public subsidies for the power produced. In some cases wind farm companies have even been paid for not producing electricity which the national grid has not been able to accommodate. Sicily’s regional government last year froze the processing of further wind farm construction permits while investigations continued.

additional reporting by Giuilia Segreti

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