February 26, 2020 / 11:37 AM / a month ago

Italian fund F2i denies seeking majority stake in Atlantia motorway unit

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian infrastructure fund F2i on Wednesday denied a media report saying it was aiming to take a majority stake in Autostrade per l’Italia, the motorway unit of Atlantia (ATL.MI).

FILE PHOTO: A driver approaches an Autostrade motorway toll along a highway on the outskirts of Rome April 24, 2006

Italian daily MF earlier reported that F2i would be prepared to confer assets to Autostrade to become a majority investor in the motorway unit of Benetton-controlled Atlantia.

The plan would see Atlantia reduce its 88% stake in Autostrade to 30-35% in an effort to end a dispute with the government over the unit’s motorway concession.

“Facing continuous and imaginative media speculation over the future of Autostrade’s shareholder structure, F2i denies media reports and in particular the article published today by MF,” the fund said in a statement.

Atlantia and the Benetton family have been in the government’s crosshairs since a motorway bridge operated by Autostrade collapsed, killing 43 people, in August 2018.

Following the disaster, the Italian government put Atlantia under pressure by threatening to revoke Autostrade’s lucrative motorway concession, which generates one third of the group’s core profits.

Autostrade is currently 88%-owned by Atlantia, with German insurer Allianz (ALVG.DE) and Chinese investment fund Silk Road also holding minority stakes.

“F2i is the main Italian infrastructure fund, it is independent and 50% of its investments comes from big international investors. Groundless speculation represents damage to its activities,” F2i said.

F2i currently manages two funds for a total of almost 5 billion euros of assets, both of which are fully subscribed by banks, banking foundations, asset managers, sovereign wealth funds, social security institutions and pension funds, among others.

Its portfolio includes stakes in the operators of several airports in Italy, including Milan’s Linate and Malpensa.

Shares in Atlantia were 0.6% higher at 1445 GMT, underperforming Milan’s blue-chip index .FTSEMIB, which was up 2%.

A government source told Reuters on Friday that some prominent figures within the government were campaigning for Atlantia to sell its 88% stake in Autostrade.

Atlantia has already offered to cut its stake to under 50% as a way to reduce the influence of the Benetton family, which owns 30% of Atlantia but whose image has been tainted in public opinion since the Genoa disaster.

Editing by Jan Harvey and Kirsten Donovan

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