Italy Ups Pressure on Benettons With Letter to End Road Contract

(Bloomberg) -- Italy began the process to take away Autostrade per l’Italia’s toll-road concession, stepping up pressure on the Benetton family-controlled company to make amends following a bridge disaster that killed at least 38 people.

The populist government wants to use the deadly bridge collapse in Genoa to make changes in the way the privatized road system is managed, Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli wrote on his Facebook page Friday.

“We want to change everything. We want to do it because human lives come before corporate profits,” Toninelli wrote. “Because the security of citizens comes before dividends to shareholders.”

Toninelli and other government ministers have lashed out forcefully against the Atlantia SpA unit and its managers in the wake of Tuesday’s disaster, which has disrupted commerce and road travel in the Genoa region and raised questions about maintenance of public infrastructure that’s been in private hands for decades. Toninelli on Wednesday called for the Autostrade’s top managers to resign.

Meanwhile, talks are under way with Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini for the company to pay a fine and pay restitution to avoid revocation of the lucrative concession.

The government will determine who was responsible for what happened “and to punish the guilty,” Toninelli wrote. A special committee has been established to make technical checks and review where Autostrade was at fault, he wrote.

Managers of other infrastructure must report to the ministry by Sept. 1 any risks they find and what will be done to to address them, he wrote. Autostrade has been asked to provide a report within 15 days on the maintenance steps it took at the fallen Morandi bridge. “We also expect that Autostrade will be shown to be collaborative on possible initiatives to compensate damages to people and goods, naturally at its expense."

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said separately that the government will make sure that a portion of the profit private companies make running Italy’s roads and bridges will be reinvested in those facilities.

“We heard that Autostrade per l’Italia would be available to rebuild the bridge at its expense,” Conte wrote. “If this proposal is formalized, the government will evaluate it, but it won’t back away from asserting the voice of all the victims of this terrible tragedy.”

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