EXCLUSIVE

'Distasteful': Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne speaks out on Australian scandal

The global boss of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Sergio Marchionne, has hit out at the "distasteful" management regime of former Australian executives Clyde Campbell and Veronica Johns, and has vowed to pursue "all remedies available" to try and recoup tens of millions of dollars from the pair.

In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media in Geneva, Mr Marchionne spoke for the first time about the scandal that has rocked the company.

The global boss of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Sergio Marchionne.
The global boss of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Sergio Marchionne. Photo: Supplied

In May last year, Fairfax media revealed that Mr Campbell – a former car thief who rose to become one of the country's most powerful automotive executives  – had been accused of misappropriating and misusing tens of millions of dollars of company money to fund an extravagant lifestyle for his family and business associates.

It is alleged in court documents that Mr Campbell gave free cars to celebrities such as Shane Warne and Liz Hurley, as well as to senior managers at Crown Casino, where he and his wife Simone Campbell spent millions of dollars of company money.

Fiat Chrysler has launched legal action to try and recoup money and cancel contracts it claims personally benefited Mr Campbell and his business associates.

"I think we have taken all legal remedies available to the house in what is an incredibly unfortunate set of events," said Mr Marchionne.

"Any breach of trust of that calibre is something that is painful and it was unexpected, obviously. You cannot imagine it. As I've said, we have taken every piece of corrective action and are exercising our right to avail ourselves of legal remedies.

"It's a very distasteful set of events, unjustifiable in our culture. I was very displeased."

Former Fiat Chrysler Australia boss Clyde Campbell.
Former Fiat Chrysler Australia boss Clyde Campbell. 

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

Fiat Chrysler also signed a $1.4 million 10-year lease on a Sydney property that is owned by Mr Campbell's superannuation fund.

The 40-foot Chris Craft yacht allegedly paid for by Fiat Chrysler.
The 40-foot Chris Craft yacht allegedly paid for by Fiat Chrysler. 

Ms Johns faces further allegations she used company money to help renovate her family home.

Mr Marchionne's comments come as lawyers for FCA and Mr Campbell are in the midst of mediation.

The plane involved in of the court battle between Clyde Campbell and Fiat Chrysler Australia.
The plane involved in of the court battle between Clyde Campbell and Fiat Chrysler Australia. 

That mediation process began in mid February and is yet to conclude.

Asked if he followed the case closely, and if he would like to see justice served, Mr Marchionne responded: "I do, I think we need to do the proper thing."

In court documents, Mr Campbell claims Mr Marchionne gave him the green light to run the company as he wished.

Mr Campbell claims that the message was delivered to him verbally by Mr  Marchionne, at a management meeting in Shanghai "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 another company executive, John Elkann, in Shanghai.

Mr Elkann is the scion of one of Europe's most powerful industrial families and 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, including  Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Ferrari, Fiat and  Maserati.

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 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.

The Campbells strongly deny any wrongdoing.