Italy ramps up pressure on Atlantia to reach motorway unit deal: source

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A logo of the Atlantia Group is seen outside their headquarters in Rome © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A logo of the Atlantia Group is seen outside their headquarters in Rome

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) – Italy is ready to revoke motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia’s (ASPI) lucrative concession if its parent company Atlantia fails to agree a deal over ASPI’s future by Wednesday, a government source familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

Infrastructure group Atlantia, (MI:) which is controlled by the Benetton family, has been embroiled in a legal dispute with Rome since the deadly collapse of a bridge in Genoa run by ASPI in 2018.

The government has been threatening to strip ASPI of its concession. The dispute appeared to have been resolved on July 14 when Rome approved a plan that would see Atlantia cede control of Autostrade to state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP).

But the parties have failed to hammer out a deal that met conditions set by the government and win the support of minority investors in both Atlantia and Autostrade, accusing each other of unreasonable requests, sources familiar with the matter said.

“The government is ready to revoke the concession if Italy’s state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and Atlantia do not reach an agreement on plans to spin-off the infrastructure group’s toll-road assets by Wednesday”, the government source said.

Atlantia was not immediately available for comment.

After weeks of tense negotiations, Atlantia said on Thursday it would press ahead with the sale of its 88% stake in Autostrade through a competitive process or, as an alternative, demerger of the stake with a view to listing the company.

Atlantia says the dual-track process is open to both CDP and other Italian and international institutional investors and has set a Dec. 16 deadline for non-binding offers.

For its part, CDP accuses the group of closing any possibility of continuing the negotiations, according to a source close to the state lender.

The latest flashpoint for tensions is CDP’s request for a legal indemnity, the so-called “manleva”.

Atlantia is unwilling to offer any legal safeguard to CDP for possible direct or indirect damages or disruptions that might occur on the motorway network after CDP takes over control of Autostrade, something that the state lender says is unacceptable, according to the sources.

Sources close to the group said that CDP does not take into account the rights of minority shareholders in both Atlantia and Autostrade.

Germany’s Allianz (DE:) , China’s Silk Road and France’s EDF (PA:) Invest bought stakes totalling 12% in Autostrade in 2017 and have the power to veto transactions on the motorway unit.

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