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Ex-Campari CEO accused of serving up a cognac deal tip at dinner

[SESTO SAN GIOVANNI] Davide Campari-Milano's former chief executive officer (CEO) is accused by French stock-market regulators of tipping off a friend at a dinner that the Grand Marnier Group was going to be acquired.

Marco Perelli-Cippo, who stepped down as Campari CEO in 2004 but remained a board member, must have told his friend Davide Blei during a March 1, 2016 dinner that the Marnier-Lapostolle family shareholders were poised to sell their stake in Grand Marnier, according to officials at the Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF).

That's the only explanation for Blei's "unusual" investment, Maxime Galland, an official speaking on behalf of the AMF's prosecuting body, said at a Friday hearing in Paris.

"The day after his March 1 meeting with Perelli-Cippo, Blei opened a securities account that was used solely to buy" Grand Marnier shares, he said.

Perelli-Cippo denies ever mentioning the matter. Blei, who made 34,000 euros (S$54,706) from the investment, says he bought shares on an "intuition" after seeing "Grand Marnier" written on a folder that he'd seen lying around the former CEO's house in Milan.

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'TOTALLY ABSURD'

Blei's lawyer, Romuald Cohana, called the prosecution body's theory "totally absurd."

"Are you seriously telling me you are going to believe that Mr Perelli-Cippo, at that age and with the career he'd had, invited a friend he's known for 50 years at his private home to tell him: 'There's going to be a takeover bid, hurry up and buy shares'?" Mr Cohana said. "That's not credible."

Campari announced mid-March 2016 that it had agreed to buy Grand Marnier, whose signature drink is often used to make Cosmopolitan cocktails, in a deal valuing the French cognac maker at 684 million euros. The acquisition was the first for Campari since 2014, and the biggest since Robert Kunze-Concewitz took the helm in 2007.

Mr Galland called for a 120,000 euro fine for Blei and half that amount for Perelli-Cippo.

Two other men, an analyst in the beverages sector and a then-Moet Hennessy employee, were also accused of profiting from the information.

Ultimately, the AMF's enforcement committee is in charge of assessing civil market-abuse cases. It announces its decision on any fines several weeks after the hearings.

For Perelli-Cippo, the outcome of the case is a question of reputation.

"During my whole career, I never told anyone what I did at work, the secrets of my activity, not even to my wife or to my dog," the former Campari CEO said.

"I am 77 years old and facing a fine isn't important from a financial point of view, but it is a shame, it is a stain on my honour and I can't accept it."

Blei was keen to exonerate his friend. He also suggested that, given his own wealth it would have made no sense to bend the law for such a meager profit.

"I would have invested more" if I had insider information, he told investigators, according to another AMF official.

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