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MILAN/PARIS, March 29 Vivendi is considering
putting its chief executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine forward as
Telecom Italia's next chairman, sources told Reuters,
potentially aggravating concerns about the French group's
growing influence over Italian companies.
The board of Telecom Italia, of which Vivendi
is the top shareholder with 24 percent, comes up for
renewal in May. Giuseppe Recchi currently serves as the Italian
phone group's chairman, while de Puyfontaine acts as his deputy.
Vivendi's influence at Telecom Italia has come under the
spotlight after it took a significant holding in Italian
broadcaster Mediaset, leading to speculation over
whether it plans to combine the two companies.
No final decision has been taken over who will be proposed
as chairman of Telecom Italia and Recchi could be confirmed in
his post, two of the sources said on Wednesday.
"There are only two rationale choices: either keeping Recchi
or replacing him with someone who represents the interests of
the No. 1 shareholder," one source said. "Having a Vivendi guy
as head of Telecom Italia's board would make sense."
If de Puyfontaine were appointed chairman he would likely
assume the post without the executive powers held by Recchi in a
bid to defuse some of the concerns over Vivendi's influence at
Telecom Italia, the source added.
Vivendi and Telecom Italia declined to comment.
Any proposal by Vivendi will have to be approved by Telecom
Italia's shareholders and lists detailing the proposed
candidates have to be submitted by April 9.
Italy's communications regulator is already looking into
Vivendi's stakebuilding at Mediaset, given domestic anti-trust
regulations that prevent companies from having an excessive
market share both in telecommunications and media.
"The choice of de Puyfontaine as chairman seems legitimate
but Vivendi would run the risk of clashing with Rome and
regulators in a country where the state still tends to exercise
some undue influence over the private sector," Andrea Giuricin,
CEO at TRA Consulting, said.
Vivendi is chaired by tycoon Vincent Bollore, who already
has some sway in Italy's business world as key shareholder of
influential investment bank Mediobanca, which in turn
is the biggest investor in insurer Generali.
Since becoming a Telecom Italia investor in 2015, Vivendi
has increasingly taken an active role at the heavily-indebted
Italian group and secured four seats on its board.
Former Telecom Italia CEO Marco Patuano was replaced by
Flavio Cattaneo last year after what sources said were
disagreements over strategy with the new top investor.
Asked about rumours that Recchi could be replaced, Cattaneo
said on Tuesday he would be happy if he stayed on.
(Reporting by Paola Arosio, Stefano Rebaudo and Danilo Masoni
in Milan and Mathieu Rosemain in Paris; writing by Agnieszka
Flak; editing by Alexander Smith)