It may be bankrupt. Its founder may be in jail. It might be engaged in a fire sale of its assets. Still, that isn't stopping the food and dairy conglomerate Parmalat Finanziaria from taking the offensive and filing lawsuits against those it perceives as having had a hand in its downfall.
In a series of lawsuits filed over the past two weeks, the company best known for its long-life milk has taken on Citigroup
Stand by for more fallout -- and lawsuits.
The collapse of Italy's biggest food company (it's named after the town of Parma, where Parmesan cheese derives its name) began in December 2003, when it was revealed that a bank account at Bank of America
Italian authorities moved fast, throwing everyone, including Parmalat's founder, Calisto Tanzi, in jail, where he currently languishes. The Italian government then appointed turnaround expert Enrico Bondi to forestall the company's demise. He discovered the company had been hiding losses and inflating earnings for 15 years and was more than $14 billion in debt.
Bondi has offered a restructuring plan to sell off noncore assets -- such as the Tanzi family's tourism business -- and keeping only the milk, milk-related products, and fruit juice divisions.
The second part of his plan, apparently, is to turn the tables on those deemed to have been enablers in the company's collapse, namely the bankers. Foreign banks carried out more than 80% of Parmalat's more than $10 billion of bond sales and private placements between 1990 and 2003.
The company is looking to recover another $2 billion from other former bankers, including Morgan Stanley
Also included in the sweep of companies caught up in the scandal are accounting firms Grant Thornton and Deloitte and Touche. The former had two partners jailed in the case, and the parent company severed ties with its Italian affiliate over the fiasco, while the latter signed off on Parmalat's 2002 audit report with the meaningless statement that "...in our opinion, the financial statements present fairly the financial position of the company."
Apparently, just because accountants say they have audited the numbers -- including members of the Big Four -- doesn't mean they really looked at them.
The reverberations are still spreading, curdling bankers like spoiled milk. Parmalat wants to recover the $14 billion it has in debt, and it seemingly has a target-rich environment from which to choose.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey has his sights set on a cold Coors Light. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article.