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Italy wants new ideas from Atlantia to break deadlock over licence - sources

ROME (Reuters) - In the latest twist in a long dispute with Atlantia ATL.MI over its motorway concession, Italy on Thursday opened the door to renewed talks with the infrastructure group, two government source said.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the logo of an infrastructure group Atlantia outside their headquarters, in Rome, Italy October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Rome has been threatening to revoke Atlantia’s motorway unit licence since the deadly collapse of a bridge in Genoa run by the unit in 2018.

The dispute seemed to have been resolved in July, when the government approved a plan that would see Atlantia cede control of its Autostrade per l’Italia unit to state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP).

But that agreement risks unravelling after talks with CDP stalled, prompting the Benetton-backed group to launch a competitive sale process for Autostrade.

On Thursday, Italy’s Treasury sent a letter to Atlantia asking it to come up with new proposals in order to break the deadlock, said the sources, who asked not to be named.

One of the sources said the Treasury was not opposed to CDP taking part in a sale of Autostrade that was also open to other investors, something both Atlantia and Autostrade minority investors had asked for.

The Treasury insisted that a deal between the Benetton-controlled infrastructure group and CDP should protect potential buyers of Autostrade from future damage claims stemming from the bridge disaster, another thorny issue.

CDP also sent a similar letter to Atlantia asking for new proposals, sources said.

It is not clear at the moment if the Treasury’s move could bring the infrastructure group back to the negotiating table.

The Treasury declined to comment while Atlantia was not immediately available for comment.

Atlantia has refused so far to set aside assets to cover future damage claims for Autostrade, saying the unit has already agreed to pay 3.4 billion euros by way of a settlement for the collapse of the bridge.

However, if no agreement is reached, the government reserves the right to complete the process to strip Autostrade of its concession, Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said in a television interview with state broadcaster RAI.

The ruling coalition has already issued two deadlines for Atlantia to cede control of Autostrade to CDP or face having its licence revoked. The first came and went on Sept. 30 with no consequences, while the second one should expire on Oct 10.

Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Francesca Landini; editing by Stephen Jewkes

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