A victory for Transparency International, Civil Society, and whistleblowers in Italy

Imagine you discovered that the president of the publicly listed company you worked for was using company cash and benefits for his own purposes.

That’s what happened to whistleblower Andrea Franzoso back in 2013, when he was working in the internal audit office of Ferrovie Nord Milano (FNM), the company that manages the railway network in Lombardy, Italy. The company has 4,000 employees and revenue of 300 million Euros per year. 650,000 people travel every day on FNM’s 42 regional lines, 10 suburban lines, and the Malpensa Express between Milan and the international airport. Any financial misconduct there would not only have direct economic damage, but cause indirect damage — possibly even greater — to thousands of commuters every day.

Franzoso discovered that Norberto Achille, the company’s president at the time, had paid for hotels, furniture, electronics, mobile phone bills and even sports betting using company funds in a scheme that ran over seven years to more than 600,000 euros. The revelations led to Achille’s resignation, and criminal proceedings which concluded on 24 October 2017, when Achille was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for misappropriation and fraud.

Transparency International Italy had brought a civil action in the case against Achille. This was the first time in Italy that a civil action by a non-profit organization has been recognised in criminal proceedings for offenses against the public administration. In the hearing, FNM was recognized as a public company, which is an important step towards greater accountability over public funds.

Virginio Carnevali, chair of Transparency International Italy, said: “This is a common-sense decision, since it recognises that these companies which run public resources and services, even if not entirely owned by public institutions, should be subject to the obligations and anti-corruption duties required by public administrations.”

And, on 15 November, Italy approved a law to protect whistleblowers like Andrea Franzoso from retaliation after they speak out — something Transparency International Italy began fighting for years ago.

This and the FNM case are both big victories for our movement, but we aren’t stopping there. Transparency International is campaigning for comprehensive whistle-blower protection legislation to be established across the EU. That way we can be sure that conscientious employees like Andrea Franzoso are celebrated, not vindicated, when they bring criminal acts like Achille’s to light.