GENOA, Italy, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A Genoa court said on Wednesday it had sentenced Giovanni Berneschi, the 79-year-old former chairman of local bank Banca Carige, to eight years and two months in jail for fraud, criminal association and money laundering.
Berneschi was ousted from his job in September 2013 after 20 years as Carige’s chairman in a management overhaul imposed by the Bank of Italy following audits that revealed poor lending practices, a large derivatives exposure and questionable accounting methods.
Carige, long seen as one of the weak links in Italy’s battered banking system, is preparing a new business plan after European Central Bank supervisors told it to cut its problem loans.
In Italy, defendants are allowed two appeals and are considered innocent until the final court ruling is delivered, a process which can take years and is regularly cut short by the statute of limitations, which limits the amount of time a magistrate can pursue a case.
Pending the final ruling, the jail sentence is suspended. But the Genoa court said it had put Berneschi under probation.
“All that was left for them to do was to shoot me,” he told reporters on his way out of the court.
Carige’s shares have fallen sharply in the past couple of years because of uncertainty over whether the bank will need to seek more capital after raising a total of 1.6 billion euros($1.68 billion) in two successive share sales in 2014 and 2015.
Carige has said in the past it considered itself a damaged party and it is expected to seek damages from its former chairman. The bank had no comment on the ruling. ($1 = 0.9513 euros) (Reporting by Paola Balsomini; writing by Valentina Za. Editing by Jane Merriman)