July 15, 2020 / 3:49 AM / 22 days ago

Atlantia makes Italy's government last-ditch offer to save toll road licence

ROME (Reuters) - Atlantia’s motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia has made the Italian government a new offer to settle a long-running dispute and prevent its concession being withdrawn, sources familiar with the matter said late on Tuesday.

Rome has been threatening to revoke the licence since the collapse in 2018 of a bridge in Genoa that was run by the motorway operator, killing 43 people.

Autostrade’s last-ditch offer, presented as ministers gathered for a late night cabinet meeting to discuss the matter, would see Benetton-backed Atlantia (ATL.MI) eventually bow out of Autostrade, the sources said.

Atlantia currently owns 88% of Autostrade, with Germany’s Allianz, France’s EDF and China’s Silk Road Fund holding the rest.

In a first stage, state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) would take a stake of 51% in Autostrade through a capital increase, the sources said.

The company would then be spun off to Atlantia’s investors and listed, with the Benetton family either exiting or remaining with a residual stake in Autostrade, the sources said, adding the offer had not been finalised and could be subject to change.

The battle over Autostrade, which operates around 3,000 km (1,850 miles) of Italy’s highway network, has become intensely political, much of it focusing on the role of the powerful Benetton family, which is Atlantia’s biggest shareholders with a 30% stake.

Atlantia declined to comment and a representative for the Benetton family did not immediately comment.

After a six-hour cabinet meeting, a government source said the government had given a mandate to the economy and transport ministers to iron out final details of the agreement with Atlantia.

“The Benettons have accepted the government’s requests. Now we need to finalise details,” a minister told Reuters on Wednesday, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte still wants to finalise the mechanism under which road toll tariffs will be calculated and draft a list of serious management failings that will allow the government to revoke a motorway concession.

Autostrade’s previous offer, tabled on Saturday, was described by Conte as “unsatisfactory, not to say embarrassing.”

Investors and unions signalled risks for investors, workers and bondholders as the prospect of Atlantia being stripped of its licence appeared more concrete. Conte has blamed Autostrade’s management failings for the Genoa bridge disaster but some ministers were concerned that ditching the concession could trigger a costly legal battle for an already heavily indebted Italian state.

Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Stephen Jewkes; Additional reporting by Francesca Landini; Writing by Gavin Jones, James Mackenzie and Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.

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