Europe: Italian wind leader charged with fraud

Oreste Vigorito, managing director of leading Italian wind developer Italian Vento Power Corporation (IVPC) and a pioneer of the country's wind industry, was arrested on November 10.

He is accused of conspiracy to commit fraud by illicitly receiving public funds for the construction of wind farms. The arrest of Vigorito, who is also president of Italian wind energy association, Associazione Nazionale Energia Del Vento (ANEV), follows a two-year investigation, dubbed Via col vento (Gone with the wind), by the tax police in Avellino, southern Italy. IVPC has its headquarters in Avellino and nine of the 12 companies through which the alleged illegal activity occurred are located there.

The Avellino tax police claim to have uncovered false certifications of land ownership and companies' financial resources that were used to illicitly receive European Union co-financing funds for investments in economically depressed areas, made available through Italy's economy ministry.

Fifteen individuals with criminal responsibilities in the case have been identified. Four have been taken into "preventative custody": Vigorito; IVPC financial director Ferdinando Renzulli; and IVPC consultants Vincenzo Dongarra and Vito Nicastri. Nicastri is known for his active role in developing wind projects in Sicily, largely through his Eolo Costruzioni firm.

Marcantonio Cascini, a lawyer for Vigorito, says: "We are ready to provide the documentation to demonstrate that absolutely no criminal activity took place." Cascini refutes the need for preventive custody, saying that IVPC made only marginal use of public funding to construct its wind farms, while Vigorito has never been a shareholder in any of the companies that allegedly committed the illegal activity.

He says these companies were actually assets sold by IVPC's former American partner, UPC, to Irish investor Trinergy in 2005. Trinergy, in turn, sold these assets to International Power in 2007. Seven wind farms now owned by International Power have also been placed under what is known as preventive sequestration by Avellino judges. The wind farms continue to operate, and the risk that these plants could be blocked from operating in the future is "absolutely non-existent," adds Cascini.

The wind farms in question, which began operating in late 2004 and 2005, were the final beneficiaries of EUR153 million in funds that were allegedly obtained illegally, he says. Six are in Sicily and one is in Sardinia. A further EUR30 million public financing was blocked by the ministry.

Cascini expects the trial to begin shortly. Founded in 1993 by Vigorito and UPC's Brian Caffyn, IVPC kick-started the Italian wind sector. By end 2008 it had developed and installed around 1 GW of wind capacity, about 27% of Italy's total installed capacity of 3.7 GW by that time.

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