CORRECTED-Proto hits back at Italy market regulator over RCS

Thu Nov 1, 2012 1:03pm EDT

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(Fixes to show Proto claims to represent investors who bought a stake in RCS, not Proto itself that bought stake)

MILAN Nov 1 (Reuters) - An Italian financier, who claims to represent investors buying a stake in loss-making RCS Mediagroup , criticised Italy's financial market watchdog on Thursday over a request for information about his dealings with the publishing group.

On Wednesday the regulator Consob said Alessandro Proto, who heads consultancy firm Proto Organization, had not complied with its request for details on the shareholder group that the financier claims controls 3.4 percent of RCS.

Proto said he would seek damages from the watchdog.

"We believe there are no grounds for Consob having released such declarations," he said in an emailed statement on behalf of Proto Organization.

"We are safe and secure about how we operated, having met all the requests we were legally obliged to, and will ask for damages from the regulator for what has happened."

RCS, which owns the influential daily Il Corriere della Sera, is at the crossroads of top Italian finance.

The publisher is 58 percent controlled by a shareholder group that includes top investment bank Mediobanca, No. 1 retail bank Intesa Sanpaolo, carmaker Fiat and insurer Assicurazioni Generali.

"We're not interested in and do not need the opinion of Consob to press ahead on RCS. And we will," Proto said on Thursday.

The Financial Times on Thursday quoted Proto as saying the ultimate goal was to take over control of RCS and Corriere.

There is uncertainty over what stake the investors represented by Proto Organization hold in RCS. In October the advisory and investment firm said it had offered to buy the RCS stake held by the Benetton family.

Proto, who previously said he leads a group of five investors holding 3.4 percent of RCS, said on Thursday Proto Organization was guarantor of a pact comprising four people, adding it was likely a fifth would come on board.

Proto recently said Warren Buffett was interested in investing in Italy, adding contacts had been made with the U.S. investor with a view to proposing possible opportunities, including RCS.

Judicial sources told Reuters in October Milan prosecutors were looking into the Proto Organization.

RCS's balance sheet is under pressure because of writedowns on Spanish operations and is thought by analysts to need a capital injection of upwards of 400 million euros.

A capital increase could open up opportunities for investors to buy into a company that is mostly in the hands of the shareholder group and long-term investors like Tod's owner Diego Della Valle. (Reporting By Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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