Former Olive Council Director Fausto Luchetti on His Long Road to Acquittal

After a trial that lasted thirteen years, the former Olive Oil Council executive director was cleared of wrongdoing.

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Nov. 20, 2017
By Ylenia Granitto
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Unconditionally acquit­ted of embez­zle­ment and fraud charges, and cleared of any wrong­do­ing, Fausto Luchetti can finally draw a line under a hurt­ful affair in which he was the reluc­tant protagonist.

What mat­ters now is that judges gave me jus­tice.- Fausto Luchetti

It is our duty to acquit and we there­fore fully acquit Fausto Luchetti from all the crimes of which he has been accused by the Public Prosecutor, the Government Legal Service Lawyer and from the spe­cific accu­sa­tion raised on behalf of the International Olive Oil Council.” This is the con­clud­ing sen­tence of the 41-page rul­ing by the Tribunal of the Provincial Court of Madrid on ear­lier this year. 

The con­clu­sion of this trial was a relief,” Luchetti told Olive Oil Times. Especially since it has gone on so long”. 

The case started, in fact, fif­teen years ago, dur­ing the last period of his tenure at the International Olive Council (which was then called International Olive Oil Council, or IOOC), where he was the exec­u­tive direc­tor between 1987 and 2002. 

The reli­a­bil­ity of my work and the sig­nif­i­cant results I achieved dur­ing my years at the head of the Council are largely rec­og­nized,” remarked Luchetti, whose long CV lists a series of inter­na­tional recog­ni­tions. Despite this, I had to resign from my posi­tion due to ground­less accusations.” 

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Those accu­sa­tions arose at an extra­or­di­nary ses­sion of the IOOC mem­bers on December 19, 2002 in response to alle­ga­tions of irreg­u­lar­i­ties in the man­age­ment of the orga­ni­za­tion’s funds. Officials of the European Commission filed a com­plaint and the Council car­ried out an audit of accounts alleg­ing anomalies. 

In 2004, the IOOC brought charges for mis­man­age­ment of funds against Luchetti, who was indicted by the pros­e­cut­ing author­i­ties with oth­ers accused of the same crimes. 

I was deprived of my diplo­matic immu­nity and, instead of being judged by an inter­na­tional court as it was meant to be, my case went to a Spanish cour­t­house,” Luchetti pointed out. By the way, what mat­ters now is that judges gave me justice.” 

At the end of pro­ceed­ings that lasted thir­teen years, fol­low­ing a five-day trial, the Court issued the ver­dict of not guilty for Luchetti and the oth­ers co-accused. And since there were no appeals pre­sented in the Court of Cassation by the IOOC before the dead­line, the deci­sion was declared final. 

The Madrid Court decided that the evi­dence pre­sented by the pros­e­cu­tor was based on mere sus­pi­cions or sup­po­si­tions, with­out there being any signs or proof of any behav­ior of a crim­i­nal nature, as the accu­sa­tions are a dec­la­ra­tion of alleged irreg­u­lar­i­ties based on mere presumptions.”

Luchetti said that pros­e­cu­tors alleged, for exam­ple, that he had the right to travel first class but instead flew coach to profit from the price dif­fer­ence. This has been denied by the first-class board­ing passes I had kept and I deliv­ered to offi­cers,” he explained. 

During my man­date, I made great efforts to encour­age the devel­op­ment of the olive oil sec­tor by pro­mot­ing research and infor­ma­tion also in non-pro­ducer European regions,” Luchetti emphasized. 

A strong com­mit­ment by the IOOC in those days in the areas of research and pro­mo­tion led to a dra­matic increase in olive oil con­sump­tion in key mar­kets around the world. It became clear that the lob­bies of the oilseeds were not keen on these sig­nif­i­cant results and exerted a kind of pres­sure,” Luchetti con­tended. This was evi­dent when I was urged to leave the Council and rejoin Brussels, and thereby news reached me from Brussels that they were sat­is­fied with the work done and yet the IOOC would no longer receive extra funds.” 

In response to requests of EU mem­bers such as Italy, Spain and Greece about the rea­sons for those bud­get cuts, the Commission answered that enough pro­mo­tion for olive oil had been made, that it was ade­quate and effec­tive and there­fore it was impor­tant to pro­mote other Community prod­ucts like oilseed,” Luchetti recalled. 

The Agriculture Minister of Denmark then pro­ceeded to pro­mote a study to demon­strate that rape­seed oil had the same prop­er­ties as olive oil at a lower cost. 

Luchetti noted that dur­ing his man­date the IOOC pro­moted research with major Universities around the world and, thanks to this remark­able sci­en­tific work they were able to expand con­sump­tion. I endeav­ored to bring together the best researchers, and I set up a team led by the pro­fes­sor Francisco Grande Covián, a glob­ally rec­og­nized nutri­tion­ist, with the aim to do research and sci­en­tif­i­cally demon­strate why olive oil is so healthy,” he pointed out. 

A let­ter sent by the deputy direc­tor-gen­eral for agri­cul­ture of the European Commission and the pres­i­dent of the IOOC between 2000 and 2001, Franco Milano to Franz Fischler, who was the EU Commissioner for Agriculture in that period, read: I have had the oppor­tu­nity to see that the IOOC is a fine orga­ni­za­tion. It is effi­cient and well struc­tured, and under the drive of Mr. Fausto Luchetti it has become an author­ity and has earned cred­i­bil­ity for itself on the inter­na­tional scene.” 

Franco Milano was appointed by Fischler to serve as chair­man of the IOOC for the 2000 – 2001 cam­paign in Madrid, Luchetti explained. He came and inquired about our activ­i­ties, eval­u­ated doc­u­ments and reports, and so on. He was a great pro­fes­sional and extremely metic­u­lous. At the end of his analy­sis, he pre­pared this let­ter-report, which is just one of the many acknowl­edg­ments of my com­mit­ment and professionalism.” 

Among those who wel­comed the acquit­tal ver­dict was Sara Baer-Sinnott, the pres­i­dent of Oldways, a non­profit food and nutri­tion edu­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tion based in Boston. Fausto Luchetti, in his role as exec­u­tive direc­tor of the IOOC, was an inte­gral actor in the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil within the EU and out­side of Mediterranean coun­tries begin­ning in the mid-1980s,” she told us. 

Under his lead­er­ship, the IOOC (now IOC) focused both on increas­ing qual­ity of olive oil pro­duc­tion and also edu­cat­ing con­sumers around the world about the health ben­e­fits, great taste and prac­ti­cal uses of extra vir­gin olive oil.” 

He under­stood that it was­n’t enough to just pro­mote the prod­uct,” Baer-Sinnott added. Instead he believed it was impor­tant for the mes­sage to be grounded in sci­ence and also put in the con­text of the Mediterranean Diet. With sup­port from the IOOC, Oldways and the Harvard School of Public Health held the first con­fer­ence on the Diets of the Mediterranean and intro­duced the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993.” 

Baer-Sinnott said Oldways and a num­ber of other orga­ni­za­tions con­tin­ued to col­lab­o­rate with Luchetti and the IOOC to edu­cate con­sumers about the Mediterranean Diet and extra vir­gin olive oil. This work con­tin­ues today and is a legacy of Fausto Luchetti – some­thing for which we should all be very grate­ful,” Baer-Sinnott concluded.


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