Friends defend producer Cecchi Gori

Roberto Begnini, Franco Zeffirelli speak out

ROME -- Beleaguered Italian film producer Vittorio Cecchi Gori is discovering he has some high-profile friends in the wake of his arrest for insolvency.

Oscar winner Roberto Benigni and Oscar nominees Franco Zeffirelli and Mario Monicelli have leapt to his defense.

The 66-year-old Cecchi Gori -- who has produced three films that have won a total of five Oscars -- was arrested last week and detained in Rome's minimum security Regina Coeli prison on charges of nonpayment of about 25 million euros ($39.5 million) in unpaid debts.

Benigni, whose Oscar-winning World War II drama "Life Is Beautiful" was produced by Cecchi Gori, was quoted in the Italian press Wednesday as calling Cecchi Gori the "most generous person I know." Monicelli, meanwhile, said he was "at Cecchi Gori's side during this difficult time."

Earlier, Zeffirelli claimed that Cecchi Gori was in prison for being "a good person," adding that he suspected political motives behind the arrest.

Cecchi Gori was one of Italy's leading film figures until he started to run into financial difficulties after the 2002 collapse of the Fiorentina soccer club he owned. Since then, three Cecchi Gori holdings have declared bankruptcy.