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UPDATE 2-EU Commission tells Rome to explain handling of Atlantia dispute

(Recasts with copy of letter, investor comment)

ROME, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The EU Commission has asked Italy to explain the introduction of new rules in relation to its handling of a dispute with infrastructure group Atlantia , after complaints from the company’s minority shareholders.

The Commission asked Rome to clarify measures it had taken, in a letter seen by Reuters. The Commission was responding to complaints lodged by minority shareholders in Atlantia, who say the government’s actions - including demands for Atlantia to reduce its stake in motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia - infringe European Union rules.

Atlantia and the Italian government have been at loggerheads since 2018 after the deadly collapse of a Genoa bridge managed by Autostrade which killed 43 people.

The Commission’s letter, which is not dated, raises doubts on the fairness of measures approved by Italy in a decree in December 2019, which make it easier and less costly for the government to revoke concessions to operate motorways.

Atlantia, controlled by the Benetton family, also asked the Commission to intervene.

“The change of rules introduced by the decree... could represent restrictions to freedom on the internal market, in particular the right of establishment and the free circulation of capital,” the Commission said in the letter.

The letter gave Rome 10 weeks to reply to a series of questions, including one on whether the decree met “rule of law” principles.

The EU executive would only confirm that it was in talks with Rome.

“We confirm that the Commission services have recently engaged in an administrative dialogue with the Italian authorities on certain aspects of the new rules on motorway concession contracts,” a Commission spokesman said.

Italian government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Nicolas Ducarre, founder of Atlantia shareholder Spinecap said shareholders had lost a lot of capital and savings due to the intervention of the Italian government.

“It has taken some time but we are pleased about EU involvement, which we have repeatedly asked for since filing a complaint with the EU commission last year,” he told Reuters. (Reporting by Giulia Segreti and Stephen Jewkes Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels Editing by David Goodman and Elaine Hardcastle)

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