Benatti Countersues WPP Group

NEW YORK Marco Benatti, the WPP Group country manager in Italy who was fired Jan. 9, said he has filed a lawsuit in an Italian court against WPP Italy and its U.K.-based corporate parent.

In a statement, Benatti alleges unfair dismissal and damage to his professional reputation resulting from media reports about the termination of his employment.

According to the statement, Benatti said he maintains the “reservation to extend proceedings” against (WPP CEO Martin Sorrell) as an individual person “due to the immense damage he has personally created by his repeated defamatory statements.”

Benatti could not be reached for further comment.

A WPP representative said, “The facts will speak for themselves, and louder than any rhetoric that attempts to divert attention from the real issues.”

Benatti intends to fashion a case “globally involving elements of civil law, labor law and company law linked with the varying duties performed by [Benatti],” aimed at “quantifying the truly conspicuous financial damage and damage to [his] image” caused by WPP and its CEO, per the statement.

Sources said it is not clear what legal or financial recourse Benatti is seeking.

On Jan. 11, WPP sued Benatti in a London court, seeking unspecified damages as the result of Benatti’s alleged breach of terms—expressed and “implied”—in his consultancy agreement with the company.

Today’s lawsuit is Benatti’s second salvo this week in his escalating war of nerves with WPP.

On Tuesday, Benatti asked police to look into alleged break-ins last month at the company’s offices in Milan, Italy [Adweek Online, Feb. 7].

In a statement released at the time, Benatti said WPP never reported the intrusions to local authorities and he demanded they investigate. (He did not say what, if anything, was taken during the alleged break-ins.)

WPP in Milan was broken into the weekends of Jan. 14 and Jan. 21, sources said. On at least one of those occasions, employees of Kroll Inc., a corporate investigations firm that was hired by WPP, reported the action to police, sources said.

Police on the scene found employees of Mondialpol, the security company hired by Benatti, on the premises using flashlights, according to sources.

A WPP rep responded to Benatti’s Tuesday complaint by saying, “Mr. Benatti should clarify and explain the relationship and links he has and has had in the past with Mr. Claudio Noziglia, today in charge of Mondialpol.” The rep did not elaborate.

WPP has brought in three law firms as it investigates alleged fraud and conflicts of interest [Adweek, Feb. 6].

According to sources, the first signs that something was amiss came in mid-December, when questions were raised about Benatti after he and WPP CEO Martin Sorrell disagreed over the amount of the earnout he believed he was due as part of WPP’s acquisition of Italian media buying company Media Club.

Part of Benatti’s job at WPP was to introduce the company to acquisition candidates, which he did with Media Club, earning him a commission of $247,000, according to sources close to WPP. Benatti demanded an earnout of nearly $11 million, compared to the $361,000 WPP believed he was owed, spurring further investigation, which revealed Media Club was ultimately majority-owned by Benatti. It’s understood that among other areas of WPP’s inquiry are media rebates and client bribes.