November 20, 2019 / 4:38 PM / 19 days ago

Atlantia under pressure from new worries over bridge collapse probes

MILAN (Reuters) - Atlantia’s tollroad unit defended its risk management on Wednesday after a newspaper reported police had seized documents suggesting that concerns over the safety of a bridge in Genoa that collapsed last year had been raised as early as 2014.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of the Atlantia Group is seen outside their headquarters in Rome, Italy August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Shares in Atlantia (ATL.MI), fell almost 3% following the report in the daily La Repubblica, which said that documents from its Autostrade per l’Italia unit showed the possibility of bridge collapse had been raised four years before the 2018 disaster in which 43 people died.

Autostrade per l’Italia said it had always maintained a rigorous approach to risk management and adopted all appropriate preventative measures.

“Contrary to the interpretation contained in the article, this indicates in reality that the company is not prepared to accept operating risks to infrastructure,” it said in a statement.

Prosecutors investigating the disaster are also pursuing a second line of inquiry into alleged falsification of safety reports on other motorway bridges operated by Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI).

At 1433 GMT Atlantia shares were down 2.7% while the Italian blue-chip index was up 0.13%.

One source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters the documents mentioned in the La Repubblica report had been seized months ago and were part of the group’s risk management file archive.

The documents covering the three year period to 2016 spoke of a “risk of collapse” for the bridge while those dated 2017 onwards cited simply structural risk, the source told Reuters.

“Prosecutors want to understand why risk assessment was toned down as of 2017,” the source said.

The group has always denied accusations of neglect and poor upkeeping of the bridge which was built in the 1960s by engineer Riccardo Morandi.

“The judicial inquiry on the Morandi bridge continues to reveal new elements that put Autostrade’s defensive position in an increasingly weak position,” Fidentiis analyst Marco Opipari said in a report.

Italy’s ruling coalition 5-Star Movement has asked for Atlantia to be stripped of its lucrative motorway concession, following the bridge collapse.

The government has not taken a final decision on whether to withdraw the concession, which accounts for around one third of Atlantia’s core profit.

Analysts have said its decision may be influenced by Atlantia’s willingness to mend fences with Rome by joining in the rescue of struggling national carrier Alitalia, which is leaking cash and in urgent need of a bailout.

On Tuesday, Atlantia said it was not yet ready to join a consortium of investors working on the rescue of the airline. The government has set a deadline on Thursday for a rescue package to be agreed but deadlines have been pushed back repeatedly.

Additional reporting by Giancarlo Navach and Stefano Bernabei; editing by David Evans

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