Agnelli family transfixed by details of drug abuse by Fiat

The condition of young Agnelli family member Lapo Elkann was improving following a drug overdose, doctors said, in an incident that has dealt a blow to the image of stylish but reserved prosperity that gives the family dynasty near-royalty status in Italy.

The 28-year-old vice president of Fiat Auto SpA was taken to the hospital Tuesday from the Turin apartment of a 53-year-old transvestite, ambulance services and city officials said. Doctors said he had not suffered any brain damage.

Doctors said Wednesday his condition showed improvment. However, injury to the image of the Agnelli dynasty may be harder to avoid.

TV talk shows and headlines in such nationwide newspapers as Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica overflowed with reports of a late-night party allegedly involving cocaine and transvestites, including one who goes by the name of Patrizia, who gave a series of interviews to Italian journalists.

Officials said Elkann was suffering from the effects of a drug overdose. Police later said they found traces of cocaine, heroin and opium in the apartment were Elkann had spent the night, Italian media reported.

The family has said only that Lapo Elkann's life was not endangered. Fiat issued a brief statement that he had been taken to the hospital. Lapo Elkann's uncle, Edoardo, the son of late chairman Giovanni "Gianni" Agnelli, died in 2000 in an apparent suicide. An elder cousin, Giovannino, who had been prepared to take over Fiat, died of cancer at age 33 in 1997.

The Agnellis' social and personal lives have fascinated Italians for decades, much the way the British royalty's doings fill the pages of British tabloids. The family's tragedies have been compared to those of the Kennedy dynasty in the United States, while the fortunes of Fiat are often seen as an indicator of the country's economic fates.

The affable Elkann is in charge of brand promotion at Fiat, a closely watched role as the carmaker tries to turn around its sagging business. Elkann's older brother, John, is vice chairman of Fiat and is being groomed to take over the auto giant, Italy's largest non-state company.

The brothers are grandsons of Gianni Agnelli. Their mother, Margherita, is the daughter of Agnelli and their father is Italian writer Alain Elkann. In appearance and style Lapo Elkann is said to resemble Gianni Agnelli and friends said he was very close to his grandfather during his last days in 2003, AP reports.

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