Romain Zaleski, the Franco-Polish financier whose portfolio of Italian banking shares has plummeted in value in recent months, is in talks with Italian banks about refinancing part of his €5.5bn debts as he struggles to weather the fall-out from the global credit crisis.

Mr Zaleski has become one of the biggest investors in the Milan stock market in recent years through Carlo Tassara, a former steel company that has become his chief Italian investment vehicle. But sharp falls in bank share prices have seen the value of his investments sink, forcing him to seek an accommodation with his creditors.

A consortium of Italian banks is in talks to refinance a €1.3bn debt Mr Zaleski owes to Royal Bank of Scotland and BNP Paribas. Intesa Sanpaolo, the number two Italian bank in which the financier has a 5 per cent stake, is expected to underwrite 60 per cent of that refinancing.

Carlo Tassara said in a statement on Monday: “The talks, currently at an advanced stage, are seen reaching a positive outcome in the next few days.”

The statement denied that the company was to be placed in administration. Reports in Milan had suggested Mr Zaleski may be forced to cede control of the company to the banking group and to start unwinding his positions.

Intesa is already owed some €1.8bn by Carlo Tassara, which also owes about €1.6bn to UniCredit, Italy’s biggest bank. Neither bank would comment on Monday.

Through Carlo Tassara, and in addition to his Intesa stake, Mr Zaleski owns 2 per cent of insurance giant Generali and banks Mediobanca and UBI Banca, 19 per cent of Mittel, a holding company, 10 per cent of Edison, an energy group, and 2.5 per cent of A2A, a regional utility.

Shares of Italian banks have slumped by almost half in the past six months. Shares of Intesa have fallen 20 per cent in the past month and were 8 per cent lower on Monday. One analyst said part of the reason for the weakness was the overhang of Mr Zaleski’s stake, which is worth some €1.4bn.

Mr Zaleski, 75, was ranked 428th in the 2008 Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, with a fortune estimated at $2.7bn. A former French civil servant, he started out as an investor in the steel industry. He lives a very low-key life in Milan. One recent profile described him as being “as mysterious as he is rich.”

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