One-time Italian movie mogul Vittorio Cecchi Gori has won a legal battle against Merrill Lynch, which now must return Euros 160m it had seized from the producer's coffers to cover alleged debts.

Merrill Lynch had seized the money from Cecchi Gori's holding company, Fin.Ma.Vi, to pay back creditors, in a case that dates back to the flamboyant producer's ownership of Italian broadcaster Telemontecarlo (TMC), which was later acquired by Telecom Italia.

At the time of his ownership, Cecchi Gori had obtained a $233m loan from Merrill Lynch for film and TV programming acquisitions.

Cecchi Gori had signed, among others, a $20m output deal with MGM covering 200 films and television programmes. But in 2000, MGM took the Italian group to court over non-payment of a $10m debt. Cecchi Gori later won his case against MGM.

According to Italian press reports, Cecchi Gori is now counter-suing Merrill Lynch for Euros 200m in damages.

On Tuesday, when the court's sentence was pronounced, Cecchi Gori was in buoyant form. "Justice has prevailed," he said. "2005 has started in the best possible way. I am convinced that this will be the year for my personal and professional redemption. And I am confident that there will soon be other considerable judicial victories in my favour."

The fallen mogul said he is now hopeful that his production company will once again be able to put Italian cinema back on the international map. Previous Cecchi Gori world-wide hits include Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful and Michael Radford's Il Postino.

"The ground has now been laid for significant developments in our London and New York offices," Cecchi Gori added.

Cecchi Gori's US office is currently involved in a remake of Il Sorpasso, Dino Risi's 1962 road movie. The original movie was produced by Vittorio Cecchi Gori's father, Mario.

The remake, written by Carl Lund and directed by Steve Ramser, focuses on a shy young medical student who takes a road trip from Los Angeles to Mexico with a famous heart surgeon.

The picture is co-produced by Cecchi Gori Pictures, Hollywood Gang Prods. and Kings Gate Films. Gianni Nunnari is producing for Cecchi Gori.

Cecchi Gori's upcoming production slate also includes two Italian comedies: Cose Da Pazzi, by Vincenzo Salemme, and Carlo Vanzina's Il Ritorno Del Monnezza starring Claudio Amendola. Both pictures will be released in Italy this Spring through Medusa.