ROME, March 7 (Reuters) - Italy's top appeals court upheld stiff jail sentences handed down against a group of former managers of Parmalat following the spectacular collapse of the food group more than a decade ago, lawyers said on Friday.
The Corte di Cassazione trimmed a few months off the sentences because one of the charges had expired under the statute of limitations.
But it left former chief executive Calisto Tanzi, his brother Giovanni, former finance chief Fausto Tonna, and Luciano Silingardi, the ex-head of a local Parma savings bank, still facing years in jail, Tanzi's lawyer Franco Magnani said.
"The court confirmed the appeals ruling almost completely," he said.
The sentences are among the harshest ever handed down for white-collar crime in Italy, where corporate fraud cases resulting in actual jail time are comparatively rare.
Parmalat, a pioneer in producing long-life milk and now owned by France's Lactalis, sank in December 2003 after a massive accounting hole wiped out the savings of more than 100,000 small investors in its highly-rated corporate bonds.
Tanzi, the 75-year-old billionaire who was Parmalat's chief executive at the time, was found guilty on charges of fraudulent bankruptcy and criminal conspiracy over what was then Europe's biggest corporate bankruptcy.
The Corte di Cassazione cut five months off Tanzi's sentence of 17 years and 10 months imposed by a lower court in 2012, and reduced his brother's 10-and-a-half-year sentence by four months. Silingardi's six-year sentence was reduced by three months.
The court also reduced Tonna's sentence of 9 years and 11 months by five months, but sent his sentence back to a lower appeals court for a further ruling, meaning that for the moment at least, he will not have to go to prison.
The scandal, one of the most spectacular in recent Italian corporate history, erupted when the group revealed that a Cayman Island bank account supposedly holding $4 billion did not exist. Management sought bankruptcy protection, and prosecutors launched a criminal fraud probe. (Reporting by Valentina Accardo; Editing by Sophie Walker)