Gianni Agnelli remembered as estate trial starts

ROME Thu Jan 10, 2008 11:31am EST

1 of 2. Fiat Vice-Chairman John Elkann (C) leaves with bodyguards after attending an exhibition about the life of his late grandfather Gianni Agnelli in central Rome January 10, 2008. Elkann, nicknamed Yaki, was appointed by Gianni as the heir of his empire based around Fiat, which owns Ferrari and Maserati.

Credit: Reuters/Remo Casilli

ROME (Reuters Life!) - A lawsuit over inheritance brought by the only surviving child of Gianni Agnelli began on Thursday just as an exhibit celebrating the life of the late Fiat chief, Italy's most famous tycoon, opened in Rome.

Margherita Agnelli, who is suing her father's most trusted advisers alleging they never gave her a proper accounting of his estate, told Reuters this week she wanted clarity over the huge family fortune, estimated at about 3 billion euros ($4.4 billion).

She also said she hoped the case would heal feuds within her family, which often draws comparisons with the Kennedy dynasty for its wealth, power and turbulent history.

Margherita was conspicuously absent from the inauguration of the Rome exhibit on her father, which was attended by many family members including her three children from her first marriage, who are not on speaking terms with their mother.

The trial in Turin was adjourned shortly after it started on procedural matters. In Rome, the family left the exhibit before a scheduled press conference, avoiding questions on the lawsuit.

Gianni Agnelli, who died in 2003 at 81, remains a bit of legendary figure in Italy, where he was known simply as "L'Avvocato" (the Lawyer) and was respected even by enemies for his style and class.

"He arouses in Italians feelings similar to those the British have for the Queen," commentator Sergio Romano once said of him.

Many photographs in the exhibit reflect his glamorous lifestyle and high-powered connections -- from the Kennedys to heads of state and diplomats around the world.

A racing car driver and flamboyant playboy in his youth, Gianni later turned his mind to business.

Over three decades he transformed Turin-based carmaker Fiat into a global industrial giant with interests ranging from jet engines to Ferrari sports cars, newspapers and the Juventus soccer club.

His influence extended to the corridors of power in Rome and he was courted by politicians, both on the left and the right.

But on the personal front there was often tragedy.

His son Edoardo, who never came to terms with the huge weight of his ancestry, killed himself in 2000. Three years earlier Agnelli's nephew, Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, who was being groomed to take over the business, died of cancer at 33.

John Elkann, Margherita's first-born son, is Fiat's vice president and is seen as the heir to the empire, while his brother Lapo seems to have inherited Gianni's wild party lifestyle -- in 2005 he nearly died of a cocaine overdose in a transvestite's apartment.

(Additional reporting by Paola Italiano, editing by Paul Casciato)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.