Exclusive:Brussels anti-graft spies probe FAO exec Ridolfi
1 July 2020
FAO ADG Roberto Ridolfi with FAO DG Qu Dongyu. Photo: Twitter
ROME -- EU anti-corruption investigators are scrutinising the activities of Roberto Ridolfi, the self-described “father” of the European Union’s External Investment Plan, while he was on secondment last year to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and drummed up business for an EXCO cooperation fair organised by the Fiera di Roma, EU sources say.
Ridolfi left his post as a director at the European Commission’s development arm at the end of 2017, moving to a two year advisory role at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In 2019 he worked as an apri pista using his extensive contacts in Italian business to conjure up sponsorship for the EXCO cooperation fair in which a company managed by one of Ridolfi's sons, Sustainaway, claimed commissions for the business brought in by his father, as disclosed by the Italian Insider last year.
Ridolfi, now an assistant director general at the FAO, and Fiera di Roma, both strongly denied any wrongdoing in the business dealings. But EU investigators now have started probing the affair to determine if there was a conflict of interest since RIdolfi still was an EU senior official at the time of the EXCO venture.
The EU investigators, who read of the affair in the Italian Insider, are subjecting relevant email correspondence including that between Mr Ridolfi and the head of the Fiera di Roma, Pietro Picinetti, to "deep analysis" to determine whether the Italian EU official, as he then was, could be liable for "disciplinary or criminal proceedings" as a result of the dealings, a senior Brussels investigator told the Insider.
No formal investigation has officially yet been opened in Brussels, the sources say, but the curiosity aroused over the case among EU watchdog gumshoes comes as the FAO director general is due to decide imminently whether to extend Ridolfi's contract as an ADG when it expires at the end of this year. Ridolfi last year had been pushing hard, with support from the Italian foreign ministry, for promotion to become a Deputy Director General though in the event all DDGs remained in post for 2020.
Ridolfi began his career at the Fiera di Napoli and joined the European Commission in 1994. He was the EU’s ambassador in the Pacific region and then Uganda, where another of his sons has extensive business interests, before returning to Brussels in 2013.
As a director at the Commission’s development department, DEVCO, Ridolfi was responsible for setting up the EIP, in addition to about 200 staff and 2 billion euros ($2.47 billion) worth of development programs under the heading of “Planet and Prosperity.”
Devex described him as "a vocal advocate of blended finance -- Using public money to help make development-related investments more attractive to private investors."
Ridolfi told the European Parliament’s development committee in November 2017 that he felt like the plan’s “natural father ... who is now handing over to adoptive parents for the EIP to go further.”
The Italian Insider's original article about EXCO published Nov. 20 was removed mysteriously by hackers from the newspaper's website though it was reproduced in the January 2020 print issue that went on sale on news stands around Italy.
Francesco Ridolfi (bearded, sixth from right) at Exco, with his father Roberto (far right)