August 21, 2018 / 6:04 AM / 4 months ago

Autostrade approves Genoa relief fund as government eyes penalties

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s Autostrade per l’Italia approved on Tuesday its commitment to provide relief funds of 500 million euros (£448.4 million) for the bridge collapse in Genoa as the government presses ahead with plans to strip it of its concessions.

More than 40 people were killed when a bridge on the A10 motorway linking Genoa and the French border collapsed last week.

The ruling coalition, made up of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement and far-right Lega, has blamed Autostrade for serious oversights and launched a formal procedure to revoke the toll road operator’s concessions.

In its first board meeting since the disaster, Autostrade said its board would reconvene in due course to come up with a response to the government’s move.

A Genoa court will try to establish exactly why the 51 year-old bridge collapsed. Autostrade has said it monitored the bridge on a quarterly basis, as required by law, and carried out additional checks by hiring external experts.

It made no further public comment about the cause of the disaster at the board meeting.

Autostrade, controlled by Atlantia (ATL.MI), runs some 3,000 km of highways in Italy and accounts for more than 60 percent of its parent company’s core earnings.

Shares in Atlantia, which have lost just over 27 percent since last Tuesday, closed up 2.5 percent.

“The board agreed on a first list of initiatives estimated at around 500 million euros funded from its own resources,” it said, adding its plans to rebuild the bridge were proceeding.

Chief Executive Giovanni Castellucci said last week Autostrade would set aside the 500 million euros for disaster recovery, including funds for a new bridge and to help bereaved families and people who will have to leave their homes close to the viaduct for the reconstruction.

Earlier on Tuesday Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera the 500 million euros offered by Atlantia was a modest amount.

“They could quadruple or quintuple that in the meantime,” he said.

Conte said his government was working on penalties it could impose on Atlantia over the disaster and added Rome had received alternative offers to Atlantia’s to rebuild the bridge, without giving further details.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Atlantia, which is controlled by Italy’s Benetton family, was awarded motorway concessions when Rome nationalised its highway network some 20 years ago.

Some members of the government have called for the network to be brought back into public hands.

Asked if Rome planned to nationalise the business, Conte told Corriere the government was examining the best way to meet the public interest.

Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Alison Williams

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