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Last Updated: Friday, 23 January, 2004, 19:26 GMT
Parmalat aide 'commits suicide'
The dead man was a mid-level finance executive
A mid-level executive in the finance department of collapsed food giant Parmalat has committed suicide, Italian police have said.

Alessandro Bassi, an aide to the former finance director Fausto Tonna, threw himself from a highway bridge in Parma, the company's hometown.

Both Mr Tonna and Parmalat founder Calisto Tanzi are now in jail, although no charges have yet been made.

Parmalat went bust after admitting 4bn euros (2.8bn; $5bn) of false accounts.

Investigations continue

It is the largest financial scandal in Italian history.

While Mr Bassi, 42, had been questioned as a witness by police earlier this week, he was not under investigation himself.

He leaves a wife and two children.

Earlier on Friday, financial police investigating the Parmalat scandal had searched the offices of Deutsche Bank in Milan.

The downfall of Parmalat is one of Europe's biggest financial scandals

It is just the latest bank to come under the investigation.

Quick downfall

Until the end of last year Parmalat - whose worldwide workforce exceeds 34,000 people, and which turned over more than 7bn euros in 2002 - was seen as one of Europe's top food groups.

But in December it was revealed that a document showing some 4bn euros held in a Bank of America account by a Cayman Islands subsidiary of Parmalat was a forgery.

That removed the props from a delicate structure of offshore firms and non-existent bond repayments which had been underpinning Parmalat's unexpectedly fragile finances.

Today the company is being run by an Italian government-appointed rescue administrator, and 11 people are being held by investigators.

Although no one has yet been charged, those in custody include Mr Tonna and Mr Tanzi and other senior Parmalat executives. Police have also questioned auditors for the two accountancy firms responsible for the company's books - the Italian arms of Grant Thornton and Deloitte & Touche.

While Mr Tanzi is being questioned at his hospital bed - to which he was transferred from prison after complaining of a weak heart - Mr Tonna has continued to stress his innocence.

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