August 29, 2018 / 8:49 AM / in 8 months

Atlantia draws fire after CEO rejects nationalisation idea

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s Atlantia (ATL.MI) rejected the idea of nationalising its Autostrade unit on Wednesday but did not rule out cooperation with state-run funds, drawing renewed criticism from politicians.

Toll-road operator Autostrade per l'Italia's headquarters are seen in Rome, Italy August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

In an interview in La Repubblica newspaper Atlantia CEO Giovanni Castellucci said Autostrade per l’Italia was a key part of the infrastructure group, adding nationalisation would be a return to the past.

A bridge on the A10 motorway in Genoa run by Autostrade collapsed on Aug. 14, killing 43 people. The Italian government has blamed the unit for serious oversights and launched a formal procedure to revoke its concessions.

“Autostrade is part of the historical heritage of Atlantia, of which it is the most important asset. There are no other scenarios (on the table),” Castellucci said in the interview published on Wednesday.

Autostrade, which runs 3,000 kilometres (1,964 miles) of highways in Italy, accounts for more than 60 percent of its parent company’s core earnings.

Autostrade per l’Italia, which was privatised by the Italian government in 1999, is currently 88 percent owned by Atlantia which in turn is controlled by the Benetton family. Other investors are Allianz SE (ALVG.DE) and China’s Silk Road Fund.

Two sources told Reuters last week that Italy’s ruling coalition was considering the idea of state-run Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) buying into Autostrade as a way for the state to regain some sort of control of the asset.

The Italian Treasury, which controls CDP, has said it is not aware of any such plans.

“There is no plan, no contact (over CDP) ... However I can say that cooperation with institutional investment funds, even linked to governments ... is in our DNA,” Castellucci said.

But Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio reaffirmed later on Wednesday his hard-line stance on Autostrade, dismissing the idea of CDP taking a stake in the unit.

“The Atlantia CEO says we shouldn’t nationalise, (but) says the state having a stake in Autostrade is OK. First you create this mess and then you want (CDP to buy) a stake to save yourself on the market ... This is not our goal,” he said.

CDP in the past has provided funding for Atlantia, including last year a 1.7 billion euro (1.54 billion pounds) loan to Autostrade.

Asked by La Repubblica if he had considered resigning, Castellucci said he was focussed on resolving the emergency situation in Genoa and at Autostrade.

Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo; Editing by Susan Fenton and David Evans

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