updated 12/31/2003 8:30:27 AM ET 2003-12-31T13:30:27

Police carried out a new round of detentions Wednesday in the Parmalat scandal, acting on eight new arrest warrants accusing top former dairy company officials and outside auditors with fraudulent bankruptcy, a financial police official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed all eight were in custody. There was no confirmation from Bologna's financial police, though, who were coordinating the roundup.

The detentions were the latest in the scandal that has brought down what was once a model of Italian industry. The company, which has filed for bankruptcy protection, has acknowledged a multi-billion dollar hole in its balance sheet and attorney's for Parmalat's jailed founder, Calisto Tanzi, have conceded that hundreds of millions of dollars were shifted from Parmalat's coffers to loss-making businesses controlled by the Tanzi family.

Tanzi attorney Fabio Belloni said Wednesday that none of the missing money had been for Tanzi's personal use, and that it had been diverted purely to keep the business afloat.

"It was an attempt to keep going forward, to close certain deals, and give the push to earn in a little way. That's the argument," Belloni told reporters as he arrived at Milan's courthouse for a meeting with prosecutors.

"It wasn't that he put money in his pocket," he said. "The little treasures (or perks) were never there."

Among those named in the new arrest warrants were Parmalat's former chief financial officer Fausto Tonna, as well as another top former financial official, Luciano Del Soldato, the Milan financial police official said.

In addition, two officials with Grant Thornton, Parmalat's auditor from 1990 to 1999, were also named in the warrant, the official said. A Milan judge has accused branch president Lorenzo Penca, and partner Maurizio Bianchi of having falsely certified Parmalat's balance sheets and of having suggested ways for the company to commit fraud.

Grant Thornton has denied that the men had anything to do with any illegal behavior and says they were in fact "victims" of Parmalat's fraud.

"At the moment, I can't comment on the report and we are trying to ascertain the facts," said Nan Williams, spokeswoman for Grant Thornton International.

The other people named in the warrants were Gianpaolo Zini, an outside Parmalat lawyer, and Parmalat officials Gianfranco Bocchi, Claudio Pessina and Giovanni Bonici, the financial police official said.

The warrants were issued by Parma prosecutors who suspect them of criminal association leading to fraudulent bankruptcy and false accounting.

Those same charges have been leveled against Tanzi, who has been in Milan's San Vittore prison since Saturday.

On Tuesday, a judge confirmed his arrest based on the Parma accusations. Tanzi, who founded the dairy company in 1961, has also been accused by Milan prosecutors of market rigging and making false statements to auditors.

In his ruling requiring Tanzi to remain in prison pending formal indictment, Judge Guido Salvini cited the "concrete risk" that he might try to tamper with evidence or flee if he were freed. Salvini also called Tanzi's statements claiming to have had no knowledge of any falsification of Parmalat documents "improbable."

Salvini also accused auditors Bianchi and Penca of falsely certifying Parmalat's balance sheets and of having suggested the "fictitious operations necessary to achieve the fraudulent aims of the group."

In particular, Salvini said the auditors omitted revealing the "irregular situation" of two Parmalat offshore companies, Curcastle and Zilpa. And he said the two also hatched the idea to create the Cayman Islands-based Bonalt subsidiary at the center of Parmalat's bankruptcy.

Parmalat was declared insolvent and placed under the supervision of turnaround expert Enzo Bondi after it was revealed that Bonlat didn't have $4.9 billion it had claimed was in a Bank of America account.

The case has been compared to the collapse of U.S. energy trader Enron because both companies had bewildering networks of related companies _ in Parmalat's case, some 200 subsidiaries.

Salvini said in his order that Tanzi had diverted and hid about $1 billion of Parmalat's wealth "in favor of himself and his companies that were extraneous to the group."

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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