DEFAMATION LAWSUIT AGAINST WPP INCLUDES MARTIN SORRELL

Ex-Manager of Italian Operations Cites 'Damaging Lies' Made by Chief Executive

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ROME (AdAge.com) -- The legal team working with the former manager of WPP Group's Italian operations, Marco Benatti, said today it has widened a two-week-old defamation of character suit against the holding company to specifically seek damages against Chief Executive Martin Sorrell.
Photo: Eric J. Lyman
Marco Benatti

The original Feb. 10 case named only WPP. “We have filed a suit and yet Martin Sorrell continues to spread damaging lies about Marco Benatti,” a spokesman for Mr. Benatti said. ”That is inappropriate and we are seeking damages.”

A spokesman for WPP did not discuss the specifics of the case, saying only that the "facts would speak for themselves."

Unspecified damages
The case, which was filed in the Tribunal Court in Verona, Italy, Mr. Benatti's hometown, does not cite the damages it is seeking. Under Italian law in this kind of case, the court can be asked to determine damages, if any.

According to legal experts, the hard part of the case will be proving damages.

“Even if the court decides there was indeed a defamation of character, there has to be a way to prove that there are specific damages coming from the defamation, and that’s very difficult to do,” said Jessica Ball, a Rome-based attorney who specializes in international law. “Whatever happens, this isn’t going to yield results any time soon. These cases take at least two or three years in Italy.”

Possible criminal case
In addition to the defamation case against Mr. Sorrell, Mr. Benatti's attorneys said they are considering further legal action against Mr. Sorrell, including a possible criminal case for libel.

Mr. Benatti was fired from WPP on Jan. 9. WPP filed suit against him two days later, alleging he directed WPP clients to a company he owns and that he failed to disclose an indirect but sizable stake he holds in a company he directed WPP to acquire. Mr. Benatti has denied any wrongdoing.

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