Unipol drops appeal against $2 bln asset sale ruling

MILAN, July 3 Wed Jul 3, 2013 7:29am EDT

MILAN, July 3 (Reuters) - Italian insurer Unipol has withdrawn an appeal against a ruling by the competition watchdog calling on it to sell 1.7 billion euros ($2.2 billion) of portfolio assets as a condition for approving a merger with peer Fondiaria-SAI, a spokesman said.

Unipol agreed last year to rescue Fondiaria in a complex four-way tie-up but a series of regulatory and legal hurdles has held up completion of the deal.

Italy's anti-trust authority said Unipol must sell assets with premiums totalling around 1.7 billion euros to get its blessing.

But the insurer filed an appeal to have that amount reviewed and lowered.

"The appeal has been pulled," a Unipol spokesman said on Wednesday, without giving a reason for the decision.

The merger, expected to close by the end of the year, will create Italy's second biggest insurer with around 37 percent of the domestic auto insurance market.

In May Unipol's chief executive Carlo Cimbri said the group had received 10 to 15 expressions of interest for the assets, from Allianz, Axa and Aviva, among others.

Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore said last month Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc was interested in buying some of the assets.

"Progress has been made in identifying a buyer for the assets," a source close to the matter said, without giving further details.

Cimbri has previously said the portfolio could be sold in blocks or all together.

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