The head of communications for the troubled Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena died late on Wednesday in what police are investigating as an apparent suicide.
His death adds an element of tragedy to a scandal that has already had a devastating effect on the community of Siena, reverberated throughout European banking and played a role in Italy's recent political shake-up.
David Rossi, 51, was found dead on a street under his office window at the bank's headquarters in Siena on Wednesday evening, a local police official said.
An employee of the bank found Rossi's office window open and called an ambulance, but Rossi was already dead when emergency service workers arrived.
Police found several notes crushed in Rossi's trash basket that magistrates seized to analyse, but they said there was not yet an explanation for his death.
The bank's chairman, Alessandro Profumo, and its director general, Fabrizio Viola, issued a joint statement on Thursday praising Rossi's "human qualities, his sensitivity, professionalism and his bond to the bank".
"For all these reasons, we confirmed and renewed our trust in him as head of communications, a role he has fulfilled with utmost competence and dedication, even in this particularly delicate phase," the statement said.
"This event, albeit tragic, renews and strengthens the intensity of our determination to move on in the journey that we undertook."
Rossi, who was married and had a stepdaughter from his wife's first marriage, had been under severe stress because of official investigations into the circumstances that forced the bank, the world's oldest, to accept a €4.1 billion ($5.2 billion) bailout from the Italian government.
Executives at the bank were once among Siena's most respected citizens, but have suffered from shame and even scorn since the bank's problems came to light last year.
Rossi had been spokesman for Giuseppe Mussari, the former chief executive of Monte dei Paschi who is blamed for the bank's problems and is a target of the investigation. Although Rossi was not accused of wrongdoing, police had searched his office and home last month.
Under Mr Mussari, Monte dei Paschi in 2008 acquired another Italian bank, Antonveneta, for €9 billion, a price that was considered wildly inflated and left the bank financially weakened. Later, Monte dei Paschi sought to conceal growing losses by way of complex transactions with Deutsche Bank and Nomura, which were not disclosed to regulators.
Last week, Monte dei Paschi sued Nomura and Deutsche Bank for damages in connection with transactions. The Italian bank said it was also suing Mr Mussari and Antonio Vigni, the bank's former chief executive, because of their role in the deals.
The bank is seeking compensation for "damages sustained and to be sustained by the bank as a result of the challenged transactions", Monte dei Paschi said in a statement last week.
The scandal has been exploited as an issue by the right and left in Italian politics. At a meeting of the bank's shareholders in January, Beppe Grillo, a comedian turned populist political leader whose strong showing in recent elections has scrambled prospects for forming a new government, delivered a tirade about the bank's longtime connections to the Democratic Party, which for decades was the dominant political force in the city.
Before the bank's problems came to light last year, profits from Monte dei Paschi financed an enormous array of city projects, including ambulance services and child care. The sudden end to the largesse, distributed by a foundation that is the bank's largest shareholder, has already led to cuts in services, and more are likely as civic organisations use up money they had received in the past.
Rossi's death is at the very least a psychological blow to the bank as it seeks to recover under its new chairman, Alessandro Profumo. Mr Profumo, former chief executive of UniCredito, Italy's largest bank, has negotiated job cuts with bank staff and has not ruled out selling the bank, something many Sienese consider unthinkable.
It is unlikely that the bank, founded in 1472, will ever be able to provide as much financial support or jobs to the city of Siena as it once did.
New York Times
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