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Police: Pilot Had Financial Woes

April 20, 2002

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ROME (AP) _ The pilot of the small plane that plowed into a Milan office tower was ``desperate″ over his finances because he allegedly was swindled out of $1.54 million by an associate, police and news reports said Saturday.

Police suggested pilot Luigi Fasulo’s desperation could have led him to commit suicide _ one of the theories being pursued as investigators try to determine the cause of Thursday’s crash in the heart of Italy’s financial center that killed three people, including Fasulo.

``We don’t exclude the hypothesis that he committed suicide over the scam of his economic ups and downs, which we are trying to shed light on,″ a deputy chief of the Milan police, Giuseppe De Angelis, said in comments broadcast on national television Saturday.

He called Fasulo _ who lived in Pregassona, Switzerland _ ``a desperate man.″

The crash killed the 67-year-old Fasulo and two regional government lawyers working in the landmark Pirelli tower in downtown Milan, and at the time raised fears of another terrorist attack similar to those on Sept. 11 in the United States.

Italian authorities have ruled out terrorism, but say they cannot exclude that the crash was deliberate, considering the plane slammed directly into the center of the 30-story building and Fasulo was an experienced pilot.

Among the other theories being considered are mechanical failure and pilot illness.

The suicide theory first was raised by the pilot’s son, Marco, who was quoted Friday by the Rome daily newspaper La Repubblica as saying his father may have taken his life because he had been cheated.

La Repubblica and another newspaper, Corriere della Sera, reported Saturday that the elder Fasulo loaned $1.54 million to business associate Sergio Landonio, of Milan. Landonio was supposed to deposit his repayment in an Innsbruck, Austria, bank account.

But when Fasulo went to retrieve the money last month, the account only had about $88, Corriere della Sera reported.

Hours before Thursday’s crash, Luigi and Marco Fasulo tried to file a complaint about the alleged missing money with police in Como, in northern Italy, Corriere della Sera said. However, authorities said they did not have jurisdiction over something that allegedly occurred in Austria.

That afternoon, Marco Fasulo called Como police again to say he had been threatened and followed, and people were watching his home, Corriere della Sera reported.

Landonio was arrested in Nice, France, on Friday and was being held for questioning, a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press on Saturday.

That source said the arrest had ``nothing to do with what happened in Milan″ but was part of a monthslong investigation.

Corriere della Sera said police in France and Italy spent months trailing Landonio, who previously was investigated for an art-selling scam and other financial dealings. He was arrested after the crash because authorities feared he might flee, La Repubblica reported.

There also were other indications that Fasulo was having financial difficulties. His wife, Filomena, told Radio Capital that Italian ``delinquents ruined us″ by not repaying debts.

Also, one of Fasulo’s companies _ Playmatic SA _ was listed in the 2002 Swiss company directory as being bankrupt.

Update hourly