Billionaire Activist Hohn Seeks EU Intervention in Italy Autostrade Takeover
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire activist investor Christopher Hohn asked the European Commission to intervene in Italy’s acquisition of toll-road operator Autostrade per l’Italia SpA, saying it breaches European Union law.
Hohn’s TCI Fund Management Ltd., which controls more than 5% of Autostrade owner Atlantia SpA, said a forced sale would be “a coercive and illegitimate expropriation of assets,” according to a copy of the Aug. 4 complaint seen by Bloomberg News.
Atlantia agreed to sell its 88% stake in Autostrade to state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA as part of a settlement related to a deadly bridge disaster in 2018. Talks have stalled over valuing the company and Atlantia said on Tuesday that it could sell the stake via a “competitive international action” or with a spinoff into a listed vehicle.
Another Atlantia shareholder, Paris based equity investor Spinecap, echoed Hohn’s view, saying the process favored by the government violates EU law. The investor “fully supports” the alternatives proposed by TCI.
The European Commission said by email that several letters have been sent to various departments related to the new Italian rules for revoking toll-road concessions, adding that it’s conducting a proper assessment in all cases. Atlantia, the CDP and the Italian Treasury declined to comment.
Premier Giuseppe Conte inaugurated a new bridge in Genoa this week, two years after the original collapsed, killing 43 people and setting off a conflict between the government and Autostrade’s owners. Despite his interventions, a deal with the Benettons is far from being sealed.
Conte’s government and the Benettons agreed in an all-night long cabinet meeting last month to settle a dispute over Autostrade’s contract to operate highways in Italy. Atlantia was forced to choose between a revocation of the toll-road concession and a sale of its stake in Autostrade.
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TCI has been a vocal critic of the proposed transaction for months. Between December and July, the company wrote several letters of objection to the Italian government, the premier and the Treasury. It filed an initial complaint to the EU last month which was than updated Aug. 4.
Autostrade was the first of several major interventions by the Italian government into a private listed company. With an unprecedented move Tuesday, Italy asked Telecom Italia SpA to delay the purchase of the company’s so-called secondary network by KKR & Co., as the government is seeking to create a single national telecommunications infrastructure.
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