Calisto Tanzi, founder and chief executive of dairy company Parmalat has been sentenced to 18 years in jail for criminal association and fraudulent bankruptcy, by an Italian court in the city of Parma.
Parmalat executives were also ordered by the court to pay €2bn to the firm and reimburse the investors they had defrauded.
The company's former financial director Fausto Tonna was also given a 14 year prison sentence while Tanzi's brother Giovanni was sentenced to 10 years and seven months.
In Europe's largest bankruptcy case, the Italian group collapsed in 2003, following a €14bn discrepancy in its balance sheets. Later, Parmalat admitted to lying about the existence of a €3.9bn bank account with the Bank of America.
Investigations revealed an international network of off-shore companies and forged documents that the company had been using to cover the truth of its immense debt.
135,000 people lost their investments in Parmalat's corporate bonds. 30,000 complainants who had taken part in the legal action against Tanzi and Parmalat will share a compensation of approximately €30m.
Tanzi's legal counsel, Giampiero Biancolella, said that his client maintained his innocence and will appeal against the judgement.