First, look at this entry in Wikipedia:
The Bahá’í Faith in Italy begins before 1899 – the earliest known date for Bahá’ís in Italy. `Abdu’l-Bahá, head of the religion from 1892 to 1921, wrote two letters to Italian Bahá’ís and mentioned Italy a few times addressing issues of war and peace as well. Though several people joined the religion before World War II by the end there may have been just one Bahá’í in the country. Soon a wave of pioneers was coordinated with the first Bahá’ís to arrive were Angeline and Ugo Giachery. By Ridván 1948 the first Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of Rome was elected. There were six communities across Italy and Switzerland when a regional national assembly was formed in 1953. The Italian Bahá’ís elected their own National Spiritual Assembly in 1962. A survey of the community in 1963 showed 14 assemblies and 18 smaller communities. Major conferences held in Italy include the Palermo Conference of 1968 to commemorate from the movement of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the religion, from Gallipoli to the prison in Acre and the 2009 regional conference for southern Europe in Padua about the progress of the religion. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying mostly on the World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 4,900 Bahá’ís in Italy in 2005.
You may read the rest of that entry. At the time I was writing this, there was no mention of the scandal that rocked that community in 2007. The Roman Catholic Church is getting bashed all over for its harboring priests who were pedophiles, but this problem of the Baha’is has gotten no such press.
Financial Scandal Rocks Italian Baha’i Community
Recently the small Italian Baha’i community was shocked to learn that one of its most prominent, long-serving and active members, the former General Secretary of the NSA: Franco Ceccherini, had been ousted from the NSA and formally charged for embezzlement and fraud in the amount of 360,000 Euros.
Ceccherini allegedly stole the money over the lengthy period of time that he served at the highest levels of the Baha’i community in Italy. It appears that he embezzled funds from 1992 until 2006 by fraudulently producing invoices, letters and documents and then pocketing the funds he received for them. Throughout the more than 14 years that Ceccherini served in the institutions, he alternated between high level positions: sometimes he served as the General Secretary of the NSA of Italy, while other times he served as the Head of the Office of the Secretariat – which included several other individuals employed by the NSA. And at times Ceccherini served as both General Secretary and as Head of the Office of the Secretariat.
Through the uninterrupted access granted to him by these positions, Ceccherini was able to allegedly perpetrate this scheme for almost 15 years. It is still a mystery how the Treasurer could not detect such a large and prolonged fraud. Nor is it known what, if any, control measures were circumvented by Ceccherini. As it stands now, neither the Treasurer, any of the other NSA members nor any employees of the NSA have been charged.
The scheme began to unravelled [sic] when the Italian equivalent of the IRS contacted the NSA of Italy and filed a charge of tax evasion against it. Through the ensuing audit and investigations it came to light that all these years Ceccherini had been pocketing the funds that should have been going to the INPS and the INAIL (state pension and worker’s compensation/insurance plans).
My suspicion is that since most continental European Baha’i communities (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc.) do not have the privilege of incorporation enjoyed elsewhere, the actual banking was in the name of an individual. And my guess is that individual was Ceccherini; because of his tenure within the Baha’i community or simply because he was trusted. After all, when you are unincorporated, you must trust an individual to administer the finances in their name. There is no other option. If my suspicions are correct it explains why the Treasurer or other person were not caught up in the fraud and how one person alone could perpetrate it.
Consequences of this tragedy are many. For one, the NSA of Italy has been thrown into total chaos. It has had to deal with an extensive internal investigation and financial audit. Theis is a serious financial blow to the community as funds which should have been paid to the government for more than a decade now need to be paid in lump sum. Thankfully the government has agreed that the NSA as an institution was not perpetrating the fraud and agreed to dismiss 90,000 Euros in interest and fines they had levied. Which means that the NSA has to pay back 275,000 Euros. The House of Justice has loaned the Italian NSA 200,000 Euros to buffer the blow to their annual budget. This loan will have to be repaid to the House in installments over time but the NSA will still have to make a lump sum payment of 75,000 Euros. A significant chunk of change for a community the size of Italy.
Other consequences are more intangible. The spouse of Ceccherini, also a prominent Baha’i was removed from her position as an Auxiliary Board Member (Propagation). The news has left the Italian community shell-shocked since Ceccherini was seen as a pillar of the community. On top of this, several projects such as the office of public information have had to be closed or curtailled sharply due to lack of funds.
Again, you may read the rest of that story.
Must I point out the obvious? If you have an election system in which incumbents are virtually guaranteed to win because the leadership cannot be openly challenged, you will end up eventually with a scandal like this. Yes, the scandals of competitive democracies are reprehensible, but Baha’is are supposed to be better than the non-Baha’i political leaders of the world. If they are not, why offer the Baha’i Administrative Order (BAO) as an alternative to rule not only nations, but the entire world? As I have noted before here, this BAO would naturally take over any society where Baha’is are the majority. This story about the scandal among Italian Baha’is shows why the BAO must be stopped from gaining power anywhere! And that may be why Baha’is chose not to mention the scandal in Wikipedia.