Knight Vinke sells Eni stake due to uncertainty over next CEO

MILAN Fri Mar 28, 2014 1:53pm EDT

The logo of oil company Eni is pictured at its San Donato Milanese headquarters near Milan February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The logo of oil company Eni is pictured at its San Donato Milanese headquarters near Milan February 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

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MILAN (Reuters) - Knight Vinke Asset Management sold its nearly 1 percent of Eni (ENI.MI) last week because of concerns over how the state-owned Italian oil and gas group will choose its next chief executive, the head of the U.S-based activist investor said on Friday.

"We sold our entire stake, of just under one percent, in Eni a week or 10 days ago, because it is not clear how the next chief executive will be chosen," Chief Executive Eric Knight told Reuters in an interview.

"The decision must be taken based on merit and not political criteria," Knight added.

Eni, which is due to appoint a new CEO in April, is around 30 percent owned by the Italian government.

Industry sources say current CEO Paolo Scaroni might not be reappointed as the government of Matteo Renzi seeks new leaders for state-controlled groups.

Scaroni, currently under investigation in a corruption probe involving Eni's unit Saipem (SPMI.MI), has said he is ready for a fourth stint which would make him the longest-serving CEO of Italy's biggest oil company.

Scaroni and Saipem deny any wrongdoing.

The Italian government wants state-controlled companies to eject from their boards any director charged of financial crimes.

(Reporting by Giancarolo Navach, writing by Isla Binnie, editing by Danilo Masoni)

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