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Increasing hysteria surrounds Ing C Olivetti & Co SpA as Carlo De Benedetti, the company’s former chairman and guiding light, joined new chief executive Roberto Colaninno in saying that the future of the entire 28,000-strong workforce is now in jeopardy. De Benedetti’s comments to a parliamentary committee in Rome came on Thursday, a day after Colaninno told the same committee that Olivetti’s recovery plan to sell off some divisions may have to be delayed, and that a parliamentary inquiry would force the group to close altogether. The climate that has been created around Olivetti is perhaps the most serious threat weighing on thousands, de Benedetti told the lower house parliamentary committee. He said he supports Colaninno’s recovery plan of focusing on computer systems and telecommunications and selling off other divisions to cut the group’s heavy debt burden. But the sale of the biggest millstone, the personal computer business, which seemed to be all but a done deal last week, has been thrown into confusion by Colaninno saying that the sale may not now be completed by the end of the year. De Benedetti is now honorary president of Olivetti, and his family holding company is still Olivetti’s largest shareholder with around 15%. Colaninno had said that the plans to sell-off the loss-making personal computer company by the end of this year may be delayed, while the sale of its profitable Tecnost computer services group Tecnost could be reviewed. He warned that if an official parliamentary inquiry was launched into Olivetti, the company would lose all its customers overnight and could be forced to close. Olivetti is already under investigation by prosecutors and stock market authority Consob after the group’s manager in charge of finance and auditing Renzo Francesconi resigned saying that its first half 1996 results underestimated losses and debts. The effect of Colaninno’a comments was to send Olivetti shares spiralling down again, and they were down by 3.11% at 530 lire at the official close of trading in Milan yesterday.

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