(Retops with Atlantia press release)
ROME, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Infrastructure group Atlantia said it was open to resuming talks on the sale of its motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia to Italian state lender CDP, provided the transaction respected market conditions and the rights of its shareholders.
The Italian government was ready to revoke Atlantia’s motorway concession if it failed to agree on a deal with CDP by Wednesday, a government source said on Sunday.
In response, Atlantia said the government could not force it to sell its motorway assets to the state lender as a pre-condition to halting a procedure to revoke Autostrade’s lucrative motorway licence.
“The imposition of an obligation to sell Autostrade to CDP is outside the authority of the grantor under the concession arrangement in force,” said Atlantia, which is controlled by the Benetton family.
Rome in 2018 started a procedure to strip Atlantia’s motorway business of its concession following the deadly collapse of a bridge operated by Autostrade.
The dispute appeared to have been resolved on July 14 this year when the government agreed a preliminary plan for Atlantia to pull out of the Autostrade business to make room for CDP.
But that deal is now at risk of unravelling because of disagreements over its impact on minority shareholders in both Atlantia and Autostrade, and the role played by the state in the negotiations with CDP.
Atlantia also said that the request by CDP for a legal shield against future damage claims regarding the motorway network was not part of the July 14 agreement.
Earlier this month, Atlantia asked the European Commission to intervene in the dispute over its motorway concession, accusing the government of breaching EU law.
The Commission replied on Tuesday, saying it was examining issues raised by Atlantia and assessing the appropriate follow-up, according to the text of a letter seen by Reuters. The Commission department handling the case was not immediately available for comment.
Economist Stefano Micossi, director general of the association of Italian joint stock companies, said what was happening in Italy in terms of public intervention in large companies like Alitalia and steelmaker ILVA was a major concern in terms of the principles of a market economy.
“The Atlantia affair is becoming an extreme case,” he said. (Reporting by Stefano Bernabei; writing by Francesca Landini; editing by Stephen Jewkes, Jane Merriman and Mark Heinrich)