Italy to Revoke Autostrade Concession Despite Company Aid Offer

(Bloomberg) -- Italy will press ahead with plans to revoke Autostrade per l’Italia’s highway concession, despite the parent company’s offer of about 500 million euros ($570 million) in initial aid after the deadly Genoa bridge collapse.

Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini said Autostrade “must open its wallet, rebuild everything and compensate everyone” for the Aug. 14 disaster, news agency Ansa reported.

“We are going forward with the revocation of the concession because the 43 dead deserve justice,” Salvini said Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of his League party in the Tuscan town of Viareggio.

A day earlier, the Benetton family’s Atlantia SpA, which controls Autostrade, offered aid to help victims of the disaster and support the region in repairing damaged road and rail links severed when the midsection of the Morandi Bridge fell to the ground.

No ‘Charity’

Italy’s populist government has reacted coolly to Atlantia’s plans, with Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio saying the state won’t accept “charity.” While the revocation process has been initiated, there are legal and procedural steps involved, meaning the end of the contract is probably not imminent.

Atlantia and Autostrade had been criticized for failing to show enough compassion toward the victims, their families and the city itself. Giovanni Castellucci, chief executive officer of the two companies, sought to change that on Saturday, telling a news conference in Genoa that they are “suffering” with the victims of the tragedy.

A plan to rebuild the collapsed bridge in eight months could be started as soon as Monday, the CEO said. As part of the funding package -- which doesn’t include compensation for the deaths -- Autostrade will stop charging tolls in the area, and is planning new roads to ease congestion.

When asked if he intends to step down, Castellucci said he is focused on the reconstruction project, adding that Autostrade feels responsibility for the bridge but will wait for an investigation to apportion blame for the tragedy.

Chairman Fabio Cerchiai said he personally hopes that Castellucci, 59, will remain in the job, and that the CEO has the support of the board and main investors the Benettons. “We can and we want to alleviate the families’ and the city’s suffering,” he said.

State ‘Abdicated’

Francesco Cozzi, the Genoa prosecutor investigating the disaster, had some pointed words for how the privatization of public thoroughfares was handled.

Cozzi said he has “some difficulty in accepting the idea that the issue of highway safety is placed in private hands,” according to an interview in newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“The philosophy of our system today sees a state dispossessed of its powers, a type of absentee owner that has abdicated its role as a guarantor of safety,” he told the newspaper. It’s as if Autostrade was “the owner of the highways, rather than the tenant who has to manage them,” he added.

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