Bernheim, 85, bitter on leaving Italy's Generali

24th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

French financier Antoine Bernheim, stepping down from the helm of Generali on Saturday, charged he was forced out of the Italian insurance giant by foes who used his advanced age as a pretext.

"It appears that today, at age 85, I am an old man in his dotage," Bernheim said in an emotional speech to shareholders.

Bernheim hands over the reins of Europe's third largest insurer to Cesare Geronzi, head of Italy's leading investment bank Mediobanca.

In a barb aimed at Mediobanca, Generali's largest shareholder with a stake of 13.2 percent, the Frenchman recalled that Enrico Cuccia was 93 when he gave up the helm of Mediobanca.

"It is sad to leave a company after 40 years," Bernheim said in the speech lasting more than an hour, indicating however that he was prepared to accept a position as honorary chairman -- despite having told the French daily Le Figaro that he viewed the offer as an "insult".

Frenchman Vincent Bollore, who has a five percent stake in Mediobanca and is the leading foreign shareholder in the bank, was voted Generali's vice-chairman.

Mediobanca's chief executive Alberto Nagel and entrepreneur Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone were also made vice-chairmen, Generali said in a statement.

Bernheim joined the board of Generali in 1973, chairing it from 1995 to 1999 and since 2002.

A prominent financier in his native France as well, Bernheim helped shape French capitalism from the 1960s to 1990 as an investment banker at Lazard.

Geronzi, 75, is considered a pillar of Italian finance, though some fear that his brushes with the courts may jeopardise Generali's reputation.

Embroiled in several bankruptcy proceedings including the Parmalat scandal, Geronzi was convicted and sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2006 over the collapse of the Italcase real estate group, but acquitted on appeal.

© 2010 AFP

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