Parmalat’s board of directors will stay in charge despite calls for their removal – as an investigation into the Italian dairy group’s acquisition of the US arm of majority shareholder Lactalis begins.

A court in Parma has appointed Professor Angelo Maranesi of the University of Bologna to work alongside PwC and an independent panel to analyse the price Parmalat paid for Lactalis American Group last year.

Parmalat’s US$904m acquisition of Lactalis American Group has been criticised by minority shareholders in the Italian group. The investors argue the deal was not in the interests of all the shareholders in Parmalat, which is majority-owned by French dairy group Lactalis.

Last month, prosecutors in Italy called for the removal of the Parmalat board and for a judicial administrator to run the business. They said the appointment of a judicial administrator was “needed to implement the necessary actions for the acquisition contract of Lactalis in the United States to be declared nul and void”.

However, the Parmalat board will retain its powers while Prof. Maranesi conducts his investigation into the LAG deal.

The start of the investigation has led to two changes on Parmalat’s board. Antonio Sala, a director of Parmalat and of Lactalis, has been barred from attending Parmalat board meetings during the probe, which could last up to three months. Marco Reboa has also been ordered to step down from his role on Parmalat’s committee for related-party transactions, although we will continue to serve as a director.

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A spokesperson for Parmalat reiterated to just-food today (4 April) the deal for LAG was conducted in a “transparent” manner. He said the company believed Prof. Manaresi would “prove without doubt” the deal was conducted properly.

Lactalis bought 83.3% of Parmalat in 2011 for EUR3.4bn (US$4.35bn), a deal that was opposed by some in Italy who wanted to keep the company in domestic hands.