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.
“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.”
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.