Risk & Compliance

Parmalat, Park Avenue, and Flighty Files

A poorly drafted search warrant only added to problems for the investigation.
Stephen TaubFebruary 9, 2004

A huge number of Parmalat-related documents were removed from the offices of the food and milk giant’s New York City law firm several weeks before the Italian company was raided, according to an account posted on the Web site of the Financial Times.

The paper — citing several employees, most of whom were fired two weeks ago — reported that so many cartons of documents were removed from the Park Avenue offices of Zini & Associates that the building’s doorman asked whether something was amiss. The employees also suspected that Zini — Parmalat’s principal law firm in the United States, according to the report — might have removed evidence stored on the computers.

Specifically, the employees said they couldn’t gain access to the files related to Bonlat, Parmalat’s Cayman Islands-based subsidiary that last year admitted it falsely claimed to have a $4.9 billion account with Bank of America.

Sometime around mid-December, according to the FT, key computer files were removed from the main server at Zini and placed on a new server set up and controlled by its New York office manager and IT manager. “All of a sudden nobody could work,” one former employee told the paper. “Everything people were working on had been removed.”

The FT added that it learned from a series of interviews with former employees — all of whom requested anonymity — that Zini’s New York, Milan, and Rome offices were a “legal factory” to produce documents and manage offshore transactions for Parmalat. “We did a bit of work for others, but it was all basically for Parmalat,” one of the former employees told the paper.

The FT also observed that a poorly drafted search warrant may have proved costly for investigators. When the district attorney’s office arrived on December 31 at Zini’s offices, at 460 Park Avenue, its warrant was for only the 21st floor of the firm’s two-floor offices; Zini’s computer servers were on the floor below. Investigators did not return with a warrant for the 20th floor until January 8 — giving the law firm time to remove more documents, former employees told the FT.