July 21, 1997 12:00 PM

ON THE FACE OF IT, RICCARDO MAZZUCCHELLI seemed like the sort of debonair swain no romance addict could resist. A suave, attentive Italian with a Rolls-Royce, a monied aura and a showy townhouse in London, he appeared in Ivana Trump’s life at a time when she was “very much the bounced Czech,” recalls Ivana pal and gossip columnist Cindy Adams. In the wake of Ivana’s humiliating 1990 breakup with The Donald, Mazzucchelli, an international businessman, wooed her like a pro—sending her a roomful of red roses after their first lunch date in 1991, presenting her with a 10-carat diamond when he proposed—unsuccessfully—later that year and then offering an immense Burmese sapphire when he again asked for her hand in marriage three years later.

These days, however, the bloom is off the baubles, and Ivana is again on her own. In a statement issued July 7, the home shopping huckstress, 48, announced that she and Mazzucchelli, 54, had separated after a mere 20 months of marriage—and just weeks after the union of Donald and Ivana’s successor, Marla Maples, went under. Already, Ivana’s camp has labeled Mazzucchelli—a multimillionaire in his own right—a gold digger, and while both sides seem ready to start divorce proceedings, the patron saint of ex-wives and her third hubby are waging a spin war from opposite sides of the Atlantic: he, in his London digs; she, in the luxe Manhattan townhouse purchased with proceeds from her $20 million-plus settlement with Trump.

“I’m very sad, I cry,” says Ivana. “I love Riccardo. This is a tremendously hard time for me. It’s very painful to go through six years of relationship with a person and to be disappointed or filing for divorce or whatever.”

Riccardo, too, claims to be heartbroken. “I loved Ivana a lot, and I think I did my very best. I did for her more than Donald ever did.” Though bound, like Ivana, by a confidentiality clause in their prenuptial agreement, he clearly is on the defensive—especially given the accusations of moneygrubbing, not only by his wife’s pals but by sources in Donald’s camp. “I’ve been crucified by the press,” he complains. As for Donald, Mazzucchelli says, “he’s done nothing but knife me in the back. Maybe he’s jealous.”

According to a source close to Trump, Donald believes that Ivana has decided who is the better man. “Everybody knows that Ivana’s in love with me,” he told friends. “This guy tried to compete with me from the start, and Ivana used him to get to me. She’s disappointed that it didn’t work out on any level.” (“That isn’t true,” claims her publicist.)

One thing Ivana still has in common with Donald, however, is an understanding that, when it comes to divorce settlements, timing is money. By some accounts, Donald’s split with Maria was announced in May in order to preempt a prenup clause that would have given her a larger chunk of his $2.5 billion fortune if a divorce came later. (Because he moved fast, she reportedly will get no more than $5 million.) In Ivana’s case, a supermarket tabloid may have sparked the Mazzucchellis to go public by alleging that Ivana plans to shed Riccardo because she wants to protect her empire, which includes an accessories business, a fragrance collection and the $50 million-a-year House of Ivana clothing line peddled on TV’s Value-Vision. The source close to Donald, at least, claims, “This man’s basic problem was that he was not the successful businessman he claimed to be. He was worth exactly what Donald gave to Ivana.”

Retorts Mazzucchelli: “From what I read, I’m painted as a gigolo. But she can have it all, with my compliments. It’s my parting gift to her.”

Ivana, in her July 7 statement, asserted that “the apparent ‘war of words’…is not my concern” and that “Riccardo’s [claim that he dumped me] is totally untrue!” She insists that it was she who had shown Riccardo the door—and later told PEOPLE that Donald’s divorce had in no way inspired her. The author of a divorce-survival tome, The Best Is Yet to Come, Ivana claims that she’ll lose none of her $50 million in business holdings. “My prenup says what’s mine is mine and what’s his is his. It is ironclad. None of us are taking nothing from each other.” Beyond that, she added, “I don’t wash the dirty laundry in front of nobody. What happened, I really can’t comment on it because of the confidentiality agreement.”

Though some acquaintances seemed surprised by the news, the friction apparently began long before their splashy wedding at Manhattan’s Mayfair Hotel in November 1995. Back on the singles scene in 1991, and fortified by a breast augmentation and facial surgery, Ivana had met Mazzucchelli—the divorced father of a grown son—in London. Reeling from the death of her father and in the midst of her nasty tussle with Trump—father of Donald Jr., now 19, Ivanka, 15, and Eric, 13—Ivana was still nursing a crush on Ken Lieberman, a married chemical magnate. Romantically “derailed” by Ivana, as he puts it, Mazzucchelli brought out the violins.

Yet Ivana, who had been briefly married before wedding Donald, took her time on the way to the altar. When the engagement was announced in April 1995, she allowed, “I will never again be as trusting as I once was. But you have to take a chance. I think, ‘Hey, what can happen?’ ” Set for June, the marriage was delayed by nearly six months—reportedly while Riccardo pondered the prenup.

Though the pair seemed giddy on the big day, reports about squabbles in front of her children (who divide their time between Donald’s homes and Ivana’s) soon surfaced. “Riccardo and Ivana used to have incredible fights,” says her longtime friend Jackie Cow-ell. “I’ve stayed with them. They were either fighting or crazy about each other. But Riccardo always walked about eight steps behind Ivana. Ivana was always the center of attention. Riccardo was a like a prince consort to her.”

Riccardo, it seems, found it difficult to live in her shadow—and to live with the ghost of Trump. The tension apparently escalated soon after their romance began; he had sold his construction company and joined House of Ivana as CEO (an unsalaried position for which he received 50 percent of the company). According to one source, Ivana continued to prefer Donald as an adviser. “She calls me whenever she has a problem with him or with anything,” Donald told the friend. “I never stopped hearing from her.”

While Ivana’s friends cite his character flaws—Riccardo “is an extremely difficult person, always complaining,” says a Palm Beach pal—his own chums suggest that the marriage was sabotaged by their claustrophobic business relationship. “It must be very difficult to let off steam because you’re always together,” says Graham Williams, Mazzucchelli’s lawyer and longtime friend.

Mazzucchelli’s first wife, Stella Metaxa, an Athens property owner with whom he is still close, believes the relationship may have become a test of wills. “It is unfortunate, the whole thing,” she says of his breakup. “Riccardo is quite macho. He has always been the protector of our family. Maybe Ivana didn’t want to defer because she [was dominated by] Donald.” As for the allegation that he married Ivana for her money, “I can’t understand that,” she says. “I had a cousin whom he had met once and was dying of cancer. He immediately sent the best doctors in Italy and provided for the family. He is not a taker.”

Indeed, Mazzucchelli says that his London home is worth about $6 million and that he owns an apartment in the Swiss ski resort of Crans-sur-Sierre. Other than that, he’s not prepared to discuss his assets. (“That’s very American.”) Rumors about marrying for money, he claims, “started with Ivana,” and are part of what he has called the onslaught of “filthy lies.” And, he adds, “are you going to marry a woman because of her bank account or because she is famous? No, you marry her because you find someone you feel at home with.”

No more, it seems. On July 8 her Manhattan lawyer Ira Garr filed a $15 million breach-of-contract suit against Riccardo for violating the confidentiality agreement. “When you have someone like Ivana,” says Garr, “an international celebrity, how she is perceived is very important in terms of her business interests. Image is important.”

So is bravado. Ivana would like to stipulate that she isn’t down for the count, isn’t pining for Donald—and that divorce (even one’s third) isn’t the end of anything except her brief marriage. “Do you think that I’m going to lie down and die? Not a chance, girl. Am I going to marry? Absolutely! What I really need is a little bit of brain—I really prefer that. He might be fat. He might be old. You know, it’s a question of the chemistry and of two people being with each other.” In the meanwhile, she says, she has Ivana Inc. to keep her happy. “I have it very easy,” she says. “I have a million deals here and everywhere. I’m going to be just fine, honey.”



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