Local investors sought for T Italia

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Bankers will step up efforts from Tuesday to bring more Italian investors into a new ownership structure for Telecom Italia to ease political opposition to the possible entrance of AT&T and América Móvil of Mexico.

Pirelli, the tyre company, is in exclusive talks with the two foreign companies until the end of the month to sell two-thirds of its controlling 18 per cent stake in Telecom Italia, by far Italy’s dominant telecoms company and the only large mobile operator still in Italian hands.

The potential sale has brought warnings from parts of Romano Prodi’s government worried about a change of control. AT&T has been keen in return to stress it is not seeking a takeover.

Intesa SanPaolo, the large Italian bank, is leading one group of efforts to find Italian partners for AT&T and América Móvil. Italian entrants, it is hoped, could buy part of Pirelli’s remaining stake or be part of a redrawn deal in which AT&T and América Móvil buy a smaller holding.

The Benetton family, which is already in the Telecom Italia ownership structure as a partner of Pirelli, seems likely to maintain its investment. Another possible investor is Roberto Colaninno, who runs scooter company Piaggio, and is a former chairman of Telecom Italia. People close to the talks said Mr Colaninno’s involvement was still some way off, but it would be a curious return to a company from which he was ousted during earlier upheaval.

Mediobanca, the investment bank, is also engaged in finding Italian bidders for Telecom Italia, though it has been pushing for a restructuring of Pirelli while trying to find an alternative to AT&T and América Móvil. Mr Colaninno could act as a bridge between the Mediobanca initiative and that of Intesa as he is close to both sides.

Tensions at Telecom Italia are likely to be lower this week following Friday’s departure of Guido Rossi, the chairman. Pirelli pushed out Mr Rossi after it blamed him for the failure of previous negotiations to sell its stake including a possible agreement with Telefónica of Spain. Mr Rossi says he was not an obstacle to a Telefónica deal and has attacked the ownership structure which allows Pirelli to control such a large company with a small minority investment. Although Pirelli and the Benettons own just 18 per cent of Telecom Italia, they nominate most of the directors. Talks with AT&T and América Móvil focus on shared control over the controlling share block. Pirelli would have an option to sell its remaining shares after 12 months.

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