Olimpia reviews links with Hopa

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Telecom Italia’s largest shareholder is starting to evaluate its relationship with Emilio Gnutti, the prominent Italian financier embroiled in this year’s Italian banking scandals, a move that could lead to it taking steps to sever links with him next year.

Hopa, Mr Gnutti’s main corporate vehicle, has been a central fixture of Italian finance for years. It is one of the principal shareholders in Olimpia, the holding company that is the largest shareholder in TI.

Olimpia, TI and Pirelli, the tyre company, are linked and have Marco Tronchetti Provera as their chairman. He is concerned to preserve the image of the companies in which he is involved and Olimpia is monitoring possible changes in governance and management at Hopa.

Mr Gnutti has not been charged with any wrong-doing but is under investigation for his part in an allegedly improper share-buying operation that was part of attempts by a group of Italian business people to thwart ABN Amro of the Netherlands in its attempts to buy Banca Antonveneta.

A number of prominent corporate figures have expressed concern that the banking scandal has hurt the reputation of Italian business and will make it harder to attract foreign investment.

Some companies such as Capitalia, the Italian bank, have already taken steps to unwind their financial relationships with Hopa.

Either Hopa or Olimpia have the right in February to serve notice that they are ending their relationship.

Hopa owns 16 per cent of Olimpia, which in turn owns 18 per cent of TI.

Hopa’s stake in Olimpia, using TI’s share price as a reference, could be worth more than €900m ($1.05bn). But calculating the price of buying out Hopa is complex and would be based on other factors including TI debt and previously agreed pre-miums.

Mr Tronchetti Provera has already stated that Pirelli or the Benetton family – another Olimpia shareholder that is reviewing the situation – could buy out Hopa’s stake if necessary.

He also said recently that Olimpia’s decision could in part be determined by transparency and governance at Hopa.

Hopa has made no comment on Olimpia but questions among Italy’s financial community about whether Mr Gnutti will resign are becoming more prominent as his mandate to run the company expires at the end of the year.

People close to Hopa say it is not considering any management changes.

However Maurizio Dallocchio, the dean of Bocconi business school in Milan, has said he was prepared to run the company if invited.

Hopa has also shown signs of a significant reorganisation. People close to the company say it is reconsidering its holdings in a number of industrial groups.

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