By Francesca Landini and Giuseppe Fonte
MILAN/ROME (Reuters) – Atlantia
is ready to approve the listing of its motorway assets as early as next week, challenging the solution favoured by the Rome government to solve a long-running dispute with the infrastructure group, two sources said.
Benetton-owned Atlantia has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the state since the deadly collapse in 2018 of a bridge operated by its Autostrade per l’Italia toll-road unit.
In July, Atlantia agreed to pull out of Autostrade under a government plan that would see state lender CDP work with Atlantia on spinning off the group’s toll-road assets, of which CDP and other investors would get control.
The sources said a stalemate in talks had prompted Atlantia to consider proceeding with the spin-off without CDP’s involvement.
The move would further complicate negotiations with the government, but it may not travel far with investors due to Rome’s threat to revoke Autostrade’s motorway licence.
Atlantia has already set up a new company to house its motorway assets, drafted bylaws and appointed a managing director for the entity, one source with knowledge of the company’s plan told Reuters.
However it has not gone as far as to transfer its 88% stake in Autostrade to the vehicle, the source added. The remaining 12% is owned by Allianz
and China’s Silk Road Fund.
“Atlantia is leaving the door open (to CDP), but the conditions are not there at present to reach an agreement with the state lender,” the source said.
Atlantia intends to approve the listing of the new company by the end of the month, the two sources said, adding an extraordinary board could be convened as soon as next week.
Atlantia said no board meeting had been called at present for next week.
It has proven impossible so far to hammer out a deal that met conditions set by the government and had the support of minority investors in both Atlantia and Autostrade.
A key government request is that the Benetton family exit completely from Autostrade.
The spin-off and listing of Atlantia’s motorway assets would address that but other hurdles remain, sources have said.
The two sources said the transport ministry also wanted a formal commitment from Atlantia to hand control of its motorway assets to CDP before the ministry aborts the revocation procedure and approves a revised concession for Autostrade.
“This is unlawful and the group has asked the European Commission to intervene,” one of the sources said.
Italy’s transport ministry declined to comment.
Asked about a new Atlantia letter sent last week, a spokeswoman for the EU Commission confirmed that various departments have received several letters on the issue.
“The Commission services will be looking into the substance of the letters and revert in due course,” the spokeswoman said.
(Reporting by Francesca Landini, Giuseppe Fonte; Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Editing by Valentina Za, Jan Harvey and Lisa Shumaker)
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