July 6, 2019 / 10:45 AM / 14 days ago

Italy's Di Maio says Atlantia must repay tolls to keep concession: paper

MILAN (Reuters) - Deputy Italian Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said infrastructure group Atlantia (ATL.MI) should repay excessively high tolls earned in recent years from its motorway concession if it wanted to keep the contract, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: 5 Star leader and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio presents his EU election program in Rome, Italy, May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

Di Maio’s 5-Star Movement has been threatening to revoke the contract under which the Italian company runs the nation’s largest motorway network after a bridge operated by the group collapsed last August killing 43 people.

But party sources have told Reuters the 5-Star Movement would be prepared to accept a compromise if Atlantia yields to a number of demands including sizeable cuts to road tariffs.

“Our goal is the revocation of the contract,” Di Maio was quoted as saying in an interview with Corriere della Sera daily.

“In order to convince us not to go ahead with that, Italians must get back all that’s being taken away from them in recent years due to increases in toll roads, and a lot more,” he added.

Motorway tolls in Italy are among the highest in Europe and are a sensitive issue in a country that also has one of the highest car-ownership rates in the continent.

Di Maio also posted a video on his Facebook page on Saturday on the bridge collapse, saying the cost of toll roads in Italy had risen by 30% over 10 years and Atlantia’s motorway unit had earned 10 billion euros since Italy privatized the road network in 1999.

Atlantia’s motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia said the video contained “incorrect information”.

In a statement, Autostrade did not reference the revenue figure quoted by Di Maio but said it had spent 5.2 billion euros in network maintenance since 1999, a sum it said was more than envisaged by the concession agreement and more than the state had spent prior to the privatization.

The 5-Star’s attacks against Atlantia have spread alarm in Italy’s corporate world and opened a rift with coalition partner the League, whose voter base traditionally includes small business owners.

“I’m note quite sure where the League stands in this match,” Di Maio told Corriere. “But I’m sure it won’t renege on what was said immediately after the tragedy happened.”

On Aug. 14, 2018, a concrete bridge on the A10 motorway linking the port of Genoa to France gave way during heavy rains, plunging cars into the river bed below.

A highway tariff cut would give immediate financial benefit to Italians and might also help the flagging popularity of 5-Star, which won a March 2018 national election but was easily overtaken by the League in May’s European parliamentary ballot.

Reporting by Valentina Za, Editing by Helen Popper, William Maclean

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