News Corp director John Elkann dragged into Fiat Chrysler scandal

I’ll take them all down with me: Clyde Campbell threat to Fiat-Chrysler

John Elkann – the heir to Italy’s Fiat, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo empires, a director of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and one of the world’s richest men – has been dragged into the legal dispute between Fiat Chrysler Australia and former chief executive Clyde Campbell.

Mr Campbell has named Mr Elkann, one of the most powerful men in the global automotive industry, as one of the people who gave him carte blanche to lift sales in Australia.

Mr Campbell, a one-time car thief who rose to become the boss of Fiat Chrysler Australia, is accused of misusing and misappropriating more than $30 million of company money and is being sued by his former employer.

In his statement of defence, lodged with the Federal Court on Wednesday, Mr Campbell claims  he was instructed to lift sales of cars in Australia to 20,000 units per year, or “Chrysler would pull out of the market for right hand drive vehicles.”

Mr Campbell claims that the message was delivered to him verbally by the Fiat Chrysler vehicles chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, at a management meeting in Hangzhou “on about 11 October 2010”.

According to the court documents, Mr Campbell says he was told by Mr Marchionne to “prepare a new plan not bound by any of the rules of  ‘the old Chrysler and that he didn’t care how Campbell and his team achieved growth, he just cared what growth they achieved. Marchionne said to plan for what was possible without the constraints imposed by Detroit.”

Further to that, Mr Campbell details an additional conversation he says he had with Mr Elkann in Hangzhou.

In court documents, Mr Campbell alleges Mr Elkann told him he “had been given a big opportunity without the constraints normally imposed and that he should make sure he did not waste the chance”.

Lawyers for Mr Campbell have used these conversations to justify Mr Campbell’s extraordinary spending during his tenure as CEO of the Australian operation.

Mr Elkann, aged just 39, is the chosen heir of legendary Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli, who was his grandfather. As such, Mr Elkann controls FCA and all of its subsidiary brands. These brands include Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, Fiat, Lancia, Maserati, Mopar and RAM.

Mr Elkann is also a direct descendant of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli.

At the height of his power, Gianni Agnelli was credited with controlling almost 4.5 per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product through his companies.

Mr Elkann joined the board of News Corp in 2013. He also owns a controlling interest in RCS Mediagroup, Italy’s largest daily newspaper publishing group.

In May, Fairfax media revealed that Mr Campbell was accused of misappropriating and misusing more than $30 million of company money to fund an extravagant lifestyle for his family and business associates.

In court documents. FCA alleged that Mr Campbell authorised the purchase of Chrysler vehicles in Britain for the exclusive use of Shane Warne, Elizabeth Hurley, and Harry and Sheree Kewell. They were described as “brand ambassadors” despite Fiat Chrysler having no brand ambassador program there.

Company money was used, directly or indirectly, to pay for a $400,000 yacht, a plane, trips to New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, a golf and spa holiday in New Zealand, luxury villas at Crown Casino, Victorian Racing Club memberships worth $244,800, and more than $380,000 in gift vouchers.

The detail is laid out in court documents reviewed by Fairfax Media.

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