MILAN — Pietro Marzotto, the former chairman and chief executive officer of the Marzotto textile group, and 10 others were acquitted Friday of charges of environmental disaster and manslaughter at the end of a trial in the southern Italian town of Paola.

This story first appeared in the December 22, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Following a trial that began in March last year after several adjournments, prosecutors in September requested the court sentence the defendants for the illness and deaths of about 15 former workers at the Marzotto textile manufacturing plant called Marlane, in Praia a Mare, a small town on the Mediterranean coast near Cosenza, Italy, which became part of Marzotto when it acquired Lanerossi in 1987.

The court ruled there was no relation between the deaths of the workers and the fumes emitted during the dyeing process.

Pietro Marzotto told WWD Sunday that he was “saddened and annoyed” by how the media had treated the matter: “They lumped me and the Marzotto executives into the same batch with the former Lanerossi executives.”

Marzotto underscored that his family’s company had “always been very attentive to ecological aspects.” He explained that, when he took over the Marlane plant, “in one month, we changed all the dyes and the chemical products, using the same ones that we had been employing for 15 years at Marzotto and that were impeccable. We have never had any problem at Valdagno,” the northern Italian town where the textile company is based.

Legal sources said more than 100 former workers have died over the years in connection with the plant’s waste output. In court papers obtained by WWD in September, there is a reference to 107 such individuals. In some instances, the prosecutors requested acquittal because the statutes of limitations have expired or because there is no case to answer.

The investigations that led to the trial began in 1999 and alleged that the workers died of cancer following the inhalation of toxic fumes at the plant, which was shut down in 2004 when manufacturing was outsourced to the Czech Republic. The investigation also alleged that chemical and toxic components were illegally disposed of at the plant and the surrounding territory.

Prosecutors were asking that Pietro Marzotto be sentenced to six years in prison. They asked that former Marzotto top executives Jean de Jaegher and Silvano Storer, who held the titles of president and ceo, respectively, be sentenced to five years. A five-year sentence was also requested for Marzotto veteran and former Valentino Fashion Group chairman Antonio Favrin. A 10-year sentence was requested for a former mayor of Praia a Mare.

“My conscience is clear,” Pietro Marzotto told WWD in September, noting that the company replaced the dyes Lanerossi had used with the ones being used in Valdagno in November 1987, two months after the Lanerossi acquisition.

“We have never had any [health] problems in Valdagno,” he said. “Actually I am told that it is one of the towns with the highest rate of longevity.”

The entrepreneur explained that dyes with chrome were common in the Sixties, but that his family’s company had abandoned them in favor of nontoxic ones long before the acquisition of Lanerossi. The Marlene plant was set up in 1958.

Pietro Marzotto spearheaded the expansion of the family-owned textile group in the Eighties and Nineties and engineered the acquisition of men’s wear giant Hugo Boss in 1991. He was pushed out of the family’s company in 2003 by a new shareholders’ pact established by some of the Marzottos.

A legal source said financial settlements have been discussed with the families of the victims over the years.

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