Deceased multi-millionaire, Piero Curati, was “a selfish, demanding, controlling man, who could explode with demonstrations of extreme cruelty” as well as a “philanderer” who “went with prostitutes,” his niece, Sylvana Perdoni, has told a court.
Ms Perdoni also accused Mr Curati of throwing a dog over a cliff as his family looked on in horror.
Mr Curati, of Allum Lane, Borehamwood, Hertforshire, died aged 81 in 2007, a year after his wife Emilia, leaving a £4m fortune.
A dispute has erupted between Mr Curati’s 90-year-old sister and his niece and nephew since the division of the fortune he made in restaurants and property.
At the heart of the dispute are two wills Mr Curati signed in 1980 and 1994, the first in England and the second in Italy, the country of his birth. If the earlier will was superseded by the latter, then his sister, Carmen Curati, would inherit all his assets worldwide.
However, if the 1980 will remained valid on Mr Curati’s death, then his wife’s niece and nephew, Londoners Sylvana and Roberto Perdoni, will inherit all the wealth he had in England, valued at around £1.8 million even after payment of inheritance tax.
Sylvana, of Chiswick High Road, and Roberto, of Hale Drive, Mill Hill, won the debate at the High Court last year, but their octogenarian aunt is now asking three top judges at the Court of Appeal to reverse that decision and effectively disinherit them.
Mrs Curati insists that her brother never thought of himself as British. Despite moving to the UK to make his fortune in the 1950s, he continued to speak his native dialect of Carpaneto fluently and had intended his Italian will to revoke his English one, she claims.
Her barrister, Mr Robert Grierson, argued that Mr Curati may even have forgotten about his earlier English will and, had he remembered it, would have wanted to see it “obliterated” along with his niece and nephew’s inheritance rights.
During the trial of the case, Ms Perdoni gave evidence about the dead millionaire’s character, telling the court: “It was well known by the family including (his wife) Emilia that Piero went with prostitutes and that he was a philanderer.
“Throughout my life Piero always behaved like a big spoilt kid. If he didn’t get his way he would sulk terribly and his mood would darken so much it was almost unbearable.
“I recall one evening he was sulking about something. He grabbed the small dog that used to come to the kitchen step of the family holiday villa in Italy for scraps.
“I remember seeing him pick up the dog, throwing it into a black bin liner then throwing it into the boot of his car.
“Then with full knowledge that my mother, aunt, Roberto and I were watching horrified from the balcony, he drove down the drive to the end of the twisting road and he threw the bag over the cliff edge.
“I remember my mother and my aunt crying because of what he had done.
She went on: “Despite his deplorable and totally abhorrent behaviour, and his hateful character, Emilia and Piero loved each other and I believe one could not live without the other.
“Piero often spoke of his home being wherever my aunt was. My aunt always viewed England as her home.
“Piero always referred to England as his home and never spoke of wanting to live in Italy…I know from what he said that Piero considered himself British,” she told the court.
Mr Justice Sales ruled last year that English, not Italian, law applied to the case because Mr Curati, despite his powerful Italian roots, “regarded England as his home and considered himself to be British”.
“I have reached the conclusion that the 1994 will did not wholly revoke the 1980 will. The material part of the 1980 will, which leaves the English estate of the deceased to his niece and nephew, continues to be valid and must now be carried into effect,” the judge concluded.
Lords Justice Pill, Munby and Tomlinson have now reserved their judgment on Mrs Curati’s appeal against that ruling and will give their decision at a later date.
Family at war over legacy of Italian tycoon
A family is at war over the legacy of a multi-millionaire immigrant whose Italian relatives claim to have a stake in his British-made fortune.
October 10, 2012