The Italian government on Friday removed the chief executive of Alitalia as it pressed on with the airline’s privatisation by proposing a new board which did not include Giancarlo Cimoli.

An announcement late on Friday from the finance ministry proposed four new board members including Berardino Libonati as chairman. They will constitute a five-person board along with Giovanni Sabatini, a government representative already on the board, after a shareholder meeting at the end of the month.

The departure of Mr Cimoli, who took the post only in 2004, had been widely expected. Government officials signalled months ago that a new team would be in place during Alitalia’s privatisation and it would not include the chief executive, who seemed to have lost the confidence of politicians and unions.

The board was dissolved last month following the resignation as a director of Jean-Cyril Spinetta, the chief executive of Air France-KLM. That departure was seen as increasing the flexibility of the Franco-Dutch airline as it considered joining the bidding for Alitalia.

The Italian government, led by Romano Prodi, has just started a bidding process for a majority of its 49.9 per cent stake in Alitalia with the winning bidder expected to launch an offer for the whole company.

Some 11 bidders formally expressed an interest at the end of January and that list is currently being vetted by the government and advisers from Merrill Lynch. Air France is not for now among the bidders but could still join the process at a later stage.

An initial shortlist will be produced soon with the remaining parties then being asked to submit business plans and non-binding offers in coming months.

Many of the bidders at this early stage have stressed privately that they have deep reservations and would like the government to give them a free hand in restructuring.

The government has signalled some flexibility on job levels but less on crucial areas such as maintaining the national identity of the lossmaking airline, its domestic route network and its two hubs in Rome and Milan.

Among the initial expressions of interest were Texas Pacific Group, the private equity firm, Air One, another Italian airline, and UniCredit, the Italian bank which has said it entered a bid on behalf of clients.

Management & Capitali, a turnround firm headed by Carlo De Benedetti, the Italian industrialist, has also expressed an interest. M&C’s partners include Goldman Sachs and Cerberus, another investment firm.

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