Michele Acquarone defends himself after losing Giro d'Italia job

Michele Acquarone, press conference, Milan, December 2013

Michele Acquarone hit back after Giro d'Italia organiser RCS Mediagroup fired him yesterday. He said in a press conference today in Milan that he feels like a scapegoat. The organiser is in the midst of a €13million fraud investigation.

"I've always tried to do everything with transparency in these years. It's hard to even be here at this point," Acquarone told press in Milan.

He added that he feels RCS made him a scapegoat and that it has already written the script to this story. "I don't want to make accusations. The situation is complicated and this is not the place given that there's a criminal investigation underway."

Italy's La Presse website reported on Tuesday that RCS Mediagroup fired Acquarone in connection to the investigation. RCS has yet to make an official statement but its newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport confirmed the news yesterday morning.

Acquarone contacted Cycling Weekly on Friday to say that he would hold a press conference. RCS possibly fired him last week, two months after its investigation began in earnest. He told Cycling Weekly that in these two months he has only heard from RCS twice, both times via a registered letter: once for his suspension and once for his termination.

Ahead of the World Championships, further south in Florence, the Milan publishing house began held a meeting on September 27 with its sports subsidiary RCS Sport. RCS Sport organises the Giro d'Italia, Strade Bianche, Roma Maxima, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo and Lombardy. It also runs other events like the Milan Marathon in April.

According to Acquarone, RCS told him and its other employees to continue their work. After returning from the Worlds, however, Acquarone received a letter from RCS that read to stay at home and wait. It also suspended media relations director, Matteo Pastore. Administrative director, Laura Bertinotti quit and CEO Giacomo Catano left RCS Sport for another.

Soon after, external investigators began their work and Raimondo Zanaboni replaced Chairman Flavio Biondi. RCS Sport presented the 2014 Giro and announced a long list of wildcards but not much happened until this last week. Over the past seven days, Acquarone called a press conference, Tutto Bici reported Paolo Bellino as a possible replacement and La Presse announced RCS Mediagroup's cuts. In addition to Acquarone, it fired Catano.

"I'm bothered by this silence from RCS, I've been suspended and there's been things written. At last, yesterday, they made a small announcement," Acquarone added. "It damages my image and my reputation to be linked to this multi-million-euro fraud."

He said he never took one euro extra than the salary he earned and that he always saw accounting books in order. Milan public prosecutors will have to decide as they now handle the case.

Acquarone joined RCS in 1999, worked on media-related projects and climbed the ladder. In the summer of 2011, RCS Mediagroup selected him to replace Angelo Zomegnan. He became the race's fifth director in its 104-year history and closed the shortest chapter today.

"The Giro does not deserve this, cycling does not deserve this, not these bad things," Acquarone explained. "However, I don't think that this will cause the Giro to crumble."

Acquarone issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, as follows:

With deep regret I inform you that my relationship with RCS is over.

The decision was taken unilaterally by RCS and I simply have to take note of it.

Similarly I take note that yesterday, after convening this press conference, the news of my dismissal was widespread but, even today, after two months since my publicly disclosed interim suspension and of the internal and external inquiry, RCS has not yet provided any additional information on facts and responsibilities.

This make the damage caused to my image and my reputation even more clear and serious, by combining my name to the alleged multimillionaire shortage found out in RCS.

Everyone knows that I have always worked with the greatest effort and with good results and, in the years of my direction, RCS Sport has gained prestige and consideration in the sporting community in Italy and abroad.

Therefore, I really do not know the reasons for which RCS wanted to find in me the scapegoat for a situation that has now become extremely delicate and serious, how the persisting deafening silence of the Group suggests.

I totally trust in the criminal investigation underway and in the incoming labor lawsuit to prove my non-involvement in the offenses committed in RCS. As far as I'm concerned I will do my best to help the competent authorities to shine a light on all responsibilities, including those linked to the serious and groundless defamation against me.

Despite my bitterness for such an end of the relationship with RCS, I will always remain emotionally attached to the Giro d'Italia and its fans.

Today, the Giro d'Italia is one of the national top excellence all over the world and I am proud of all the work I have done to consolidate this prestigious goal.

Looking to the future, I feel my strengths, my enthusiasm and the results obtained are stronger than any deformation, and, after two months in limbo, I am looking forward to putting me on the line again, hoping to find a real exciting project. Anybody I met knows I have ideas and, overall, I have the right determination to realize them.

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