* 2.3 pct of Saipem placed at 30.65 euros - traders
* Saipem shares fell sharply after profit warning
By Stephen Jewkes and Giancarlo Navach
MILAN, Feb 4 Italy's financial regulator has
asked its British counterpart to probe a sale of shares in
Europe's biggest oil services company Saipem before it
warned profit would fall, a source close to the Italian watchdog
said late on Monday.
The probe is the latest headache for Chief Executive Umberto
Vergine who took the helm in December after his predecessor was
forced out by an Italian investigation into alleged corruption
The Consob source said the watchdog suspects shares were
sold in London and has called in the Financial Services
Authority (FSA) to look into the timing of the sale and who sold
shares to whom.
Saipem shares plunged by one third after the profit warning
rattled investors last week.
"Consob has asked the FSA to look into the placement by
Merrill Lynch to better understand what exactly went on," the
source said, refering to press reports that Bank of
America-Merrill Lynch had handled the sale.
Traders said Bofa Merrill Lynch was acting as a broker on
behalf of a third party.
Bofa Merrill Lynch declined to comment. Consob, Saipem and
the FSA also declined to comment
Last week, traders told Reuters that Bofa Merrill Lynch had
on Jan. 28 started the process to sell 2.3 percent of Saipem
shares on the market at 30.65 euros per share.
After the market closed on Jan. 29, Saipem warned net profit
would be halved this year to 450 million euros.
Its shares tumbled 34 percent to 19.97 euros the following
day, as investors questioned how a company operating in a sector
buoyed by high oil prices and strong demand for rigs and other
drilling engineering services could have got things so wrong.
In an interview with an Italian newspaper on Sunday, CEO
Vergine said he had not been pre-alerted as to any placement and
had learned of it from news agencies.
Vergine, a former manager at oil major Eni which
owns around 43 percent of Saipem, and Chief Financial Officer
Stefano Goberti met Consob on Monday for more than two hours.
The two managers left without comment.
At 1251 GMT on Tuesday, Saipem shares were up 1.2 percent at