As the end of Succession nears, another billionaire power struggle is playing out in Italy.
At a court in Turin, the matriarch of the industrialist Agnelli family is trying to sue three of her children in a row over the vast fortune left behind by her late father.
The family feud has gripped Italy and, depending on the outcomes, could send shockwaves through one of Europe’s biggest multinational empires.
The Agnelli family sits behind a group spanning interests in car makers such as Fiat, Vauxhall and Ferrari, Juventus Football Club, Italian newspapers La Repubblica and La Stampa, and The Economist magazine.
The roots of the bitter dispute can be traced back to the death of Gianni Agnelli, the industrial titan once known as the unofficial king of Italy.
After he passed in 2003, members of his family – who have been nicknamed the Kennedys of Italy – gathered to discuss their next moves.
Fiat, the business that had made the Agnelli name and fortune, was in serious financial trouble at the time. Banks were demanding the repayment of loans worth €3bn (£2.6bn), putting the family’s control in jeopardy.
At the same time, a string of deaths had upended the line of succession and created tensions over who would now take charge.
Eventually, the family came to agreements the following year known as the “Geneva Pacts” that settled the question of succession.
Under the terms of the deal, Margherita Agnelli de Pahlen, Gianni’s daughter and sole surviving child, walked away with a €1.2bn settlement that included properties, artworks and cash, but no shares in the holding company at the centre of the Agnelli web.
Meanwhile, John Elkann, Margherita’s eldest son, took the keys to the kingdom, taking charge of the business ventures. At the time, the concern was worth just a few billion euros but now valued at more than €10bn.
De Pahlen, 67, is now trying to sue Elkann, 47, and her other two children by her first husband to reopen the 2004 deals. De Pahlen is arguing that she and her five offspring from a second spouse have been cheated out of their rightful inheritance.
Elkann and his allies say the case is spurious and designed to grab a second bite of a fortune he and others have painstakingly rebuilt since his grandfather’s death.
The empire left behind by Gianni Agnelli – a glamorous figure who counted the Kennedys and Henry Kissinger as friends – was beginning to fade when he died from prostate cancer, aged 81.
Fiat, the car company he had built into a global force, partly through the success of models such as the mass-market Fiat 500, had posted a loss of €4.3bn in 2002 – its biggest ever.
Elkann has helped revive the company through a series of massive mergers. Stellantis, as the combined group is now known, is the world's eighth largest automaker spanning brands such as Peugeot, Chrysler, Citroen and Jeep.
Elkann had first been named heir apparent in 1997 – when he was aged just 21 – following the untimely death of Giovanni Agnelli, de Pahlen’s cousin, from stomach cancer.
Gianni’s own son, Edoardo Agnelli had never been considered for the top job. He committed suicide in 2000 following problems with drugs and depression.
The deal reached in 2004 saw de Pahlen agree to hand over her 37pc share of Dicembre, the key Agnelli holding company, to her son Elkann for about €103m, leaving him with 60pc.
De Pahlen was also told that her mother, Marella, planned to give her shares to Elkann, thereby bypassing her in the inheritance pecking order.
The shares Elkann received in Dicembre were crucial in handing him control of Exor, the €19bn behemoth that has major interests in car giants Stellantis and Ferrari, as well Juventus FC.
Unhappy she and her second husband’s children would effectively be cut out, De Pahlen later told Vanity Fair that she only agreed to her exit “to gain peace”.
Her original settlement included some $300m in liquid assets, a huge residence neighbouring Rome’s presidential palace, the sprawling country estate Villar Perosa near Turin, her father’s summer retreat in Corsica and a house in Paris, as well as a share of a $1bn art collection that includes works by Francis Bacon, Paul Klee and Andy Warhol.
However, de Pahlen soon began agitating to reexamine her father’s will process, suspecting that the full extent of his foreign assets had been hidden from her. This culminated in her first legal challenges in the late 2000s.
Following the death of her mother in 2019, de Pahlen began arguing that her mother’s claim of being a Swiss resident was a sham, thereby undermining the legal basis on which the Geneva Pacts were struck to begin with. This is salient because Italian law forbids such agreements.
Allies of the Elkanns take a drastically different view. They argue that de Pahlen, having walked away almost two decades ago, is simply trying to get a bigger slice of the pie now that the Fiat business empire has recovered.
They also maintain that Marella Agnelli's status as a Swiss resident was confirmed by authorities when she died and in 2004, insisting that there is no legal outcome possible where the pacts can be reopened.
“In 2004 Mrs De Pahlen signed a definitive inheritance agreement with her mother, both as Swiss residents, a fact recognised by the Italian authorities,” one person close to the Elkanns says.
“Marella Agnelli’s Swiss residency was confirmed on her passing in 2019 by the Swiss authorities. Mrs De Pahlen’s wish to reopen this matter is simply an attempt by her to seek unwarranted further financial advantage and is without any merit.”
De Pahlen was asked to comment but did not respond.
Elkann, who guards his privacy and rarely gives interviews, has previously said he was left “hurt as a son and surprised” by his mother’s actions. The pair do not speak.
Judges in Turin are expected to rule on whether de Pahlen’s case can go ahead in the coming weeks. However, with a parallel legal battle ongoing in Switzerland, there are questions over whether the Italian courts have first jurisdiction.
Paolo Griseri, a business journalist at Rome-based La Repubblica who has followed Agnellis for decades, believes the outcome of the case ultimately poses no threat to Elkann’s position.
“No one in the family is willing to question the leadership of John Elkann,” he adds.
Yet for many in Italy, the real life Succession drama is captivating nonetheless by offering a rare window into the country's unofficial first family.