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Italian Banker Cuccia Dies at 92

June 23, 2000

ROME (AP) _ Enrico Cuccia, who was considered the most powerful man in Italian finance, died Friday at age 92.

The head of the Italian Bankers’ Association, Maurizio Sella, announced Cuccia’s death at an association meeting in Rome.

As co-founder and chairman of Mediobanca, Italy’s premier merchant bank, the highly secretive Cuccia served as the clearing gate for mega-mergers and as custodian for strategic chunks of stock in the handful of major industrial groups, like the Agnelli empire, that dominated the Italian private sector.

Among the companies in which Mediobanca had key stakes were the Agnelli family jewel Fiat, Pirelli, Olivetti, Montedison and Mondadori.

``Mediobanca acquired a far-reaching influence over the destiny of half the Italian economy. It became THE force to be reckoned with,″ American journalist Alan Friedman wrote in his 1988 book ``Agnelli and the Network of Italian Power.″

``I believe that all of us should be grateful for his contribution to the growth of our country,″ said Italy’s leading industrialist, Fiat’s Giovanni Agnelli.

Cuccia was admitted to the Monzino heart hospital in Milan Thursday and died early Friday, said Dr. Lorenzo Cammelli. Cuccia had spent several weeks at Monzino this spring.

Cuccia was forced off Mediobanca’s board in 1982 when he reached the retirement age of 75, but stayed on as honorary chairman, trying to engineer deals even as he neared 90.

``When you speak about Cuccia, you must not speak only of a banker, but of a man who has tied his history to that of the country,″ Pirelli tire empire chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera said in a 1997 state TV interview.

Despite half a century behind headline-making deals, Cuccia never gave a single interview.

For journalists who caught up with his stooped, thin frame as he walked the few blocks from his Milan home to Mediobanca’s headquarters, near La Scala opera house, he had a shy ``Good morning.″

Born on Nov. 24, 1907, Cuccia began his career at Italy’s central bank, then moved to the sprawling state industrial holding company IRI.

Cuccia married the IRI chairman’s daughter, then left the bank when Raffaele Mattioli, a key figure in postwar finance, tapped him to start Mediobanca.

Mediobanca, controlled by the three banks, was designed as a medium-term lender for big industry. Technically a state servant, Cuccia used his position to become a master of industrial wheeling-and-dealing. Mediobanca would buy minority shares in key companies and become their banker, spinning a web that engineered mergers.

With such an impact on Italian financial life, it was inevitable that Mediobanca would come under the scrutiny of corruption-busting Italian prosecutors in the 1990s.

In 1994, Cuccia was one of four Mediobanca executives investigated for alleged accounting irregularities. He was never charged and nothing dimmed his star status.

Bankers who knew him ascribed his success to a keen intelligence and an absolute discretion that won the trust of Italy’s biggest businessmen.

Cuccia and his wife, Idea Socialista, who died in 1996, had three children. Funeral plans were pending.

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