Exclusive: Italy judge seeks trial for BT Italy, former executives in fraud case

(This Nov. 10 story corrects to change “21 defendants including three” to “20 defendants including two” in first paragraph, and to add paragraph 10 to show Luis Alvarez was acquitted, not sent to trial)

MILAN (Reuters) - A judge in Milan on Tuesday decided there were grounds for a trial of the Italian unit of British Telecom BT.L and 20 defendants, including two former senior BT executives, in an accounting scandal case, judicial and legal sources said.

The trial has been set for Jan. 26, 2021 before the Milan court, the sources said. All the defendants were indicted for alleged false accounting committed in 2015 and 2016.

All the defendants have always denied any wrongdoing.

In a written response to a Reuters’ request for comment, British Telecom said: “We are disappointed. We remain confident in our defence.”

In the past, the company has stated that it was cooperating with Italy’s judicial authorities and believed it was the “injured party” in any accounting irregularities in Italy.

The scandal required the company to take a 530-million-pound charge in its accounts in 2017.

Milan prosecutors have alleged that a network of BT Italy employees inflated revenues, faked contract renewals and invoices and invented bogus supplier transactions in order to disguise the unit’s true financial performance.

Of 23 individuals originally accused, a former manager of BT Italy has already been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in a fast-track trial, while the former CEO of the business died last year.

Charges relating to 2013 and 2014 financial statements were annulled due to the statute of limitations which wipes out trials if a verdict is not reached within a set time frame.

Luis Alvarez, former chief executive of BT Global Services, was therefore acquitted by statute of limitations because the charge against him referred to 2013

Among the defendants the judge sent to trial are Richard Cameron, former chief financial officer of BT Global Services, and Corrado Sciolla, formerly BT’s head of continental Europe. They are alleged to have been complicit in false accounting.

Roberto Pisano, a lawyer for Cameron told Reuters: “Mr Cameron is extremely disappointed that the case against him is proceeding. He is in no doubt that he acted properly and we are very confident that at trial he will be cleared of any allegation of wrongdoing.”

Sciolla lawyer has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Reporting by Emilio Parodi, editing by Gavin Jones and Jane Merriman