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All 13 independent directors on the board of Telecom Italia last week offered to quit in a show of support for Marco Tronchetti Provera, the chairman who resigned amid a deepening dispute with the government.
The move by the directors, who were persuaded to retract their offer of resignation by Mr Tronchetti, demonstrates the strength of feeling against the government of Romano Prodi at the top of Italy’s largest telecoms company.
The board has pledged to follow a controversial restructuring plan championed by Mr Tronchetti but attacked by politicians and unions. Guido Rossi, the lawyer who has taken over from Mr Tronchetti as chairman, is this week meeting advisers as the company puts the details into a plan to split into three and possibly sell some large assets, such as businesses in Brazil and its mobile arm.
Mr Tronchetti’s problems with the government deepened after the company announced its restructuring at the start of last week. Mr Prodi first expressed surprise and concern, and later released details of private meetings between the two men to demonstrate that Mr Tronchetti had not revealed the extent of the plan.
Mr Tronchetti resigned suddenly at an emergency board meeting on Friday night. That has left Mr Rossi to fix a situation in which the company has pledged to restructure in the face of the prime minister’s discontent.
The board at first tried to persuade Mr Tronchetti to stay and later the independent directors – who number 13 of 21 directors on the board – offered to quit,
people close to the talks said. The company has not commented on the directors’ offer of resignation.
The independent directors at TI include a number of academics as well as business people such as Vittorio Merloni, chairman of Indesit, and Domenico De Sole, former chief of Gucci.
Mr Tronchetti has been criticised for a lack of transparency, particularly in his dealings with Rupert Murdoch, and Italian regulators this week said they had started an investigation into TI’s recent actions.
Neither TI nor Mr Murdoch’s group has admitted that they discussed the sale of a TI stake, though that was revealed by Mr Prodi. Mr Rossi said yesterday he had worked as an adviser in the talks with Mr Murdoch. People close to the board said the directors were informed about some of those talks.
Meanwhile, Mr Rossi has quit as head of the Italian football federation, a job he took on this year to sort out a corruption scandal. Mr Rossi was in potential conflict because TI is a large sponsor of Italian football.