* Antitrust probe to involve Mediobanca-Generali ties
* Unipol-Fondiaria merger would create dominant positions
* Probe should be wrapped up in 45 days
(Releads, adds detail, background)
ROME/MILAN, April 26 Italy's antitrust agency
suspended the planned merger of troubled Italian insurer
Fondiaria-SAI and peer Unipol on Thursday in order to
investigate potential risks to competition from the tie-up,
further clouding prospects for the deal.
The agency said in a statement the suspension was to prevent
"the next steps in the operation creating effects hard to
reverse with regard to the capital of the companies involved".
In January top investment house Mediobanca
brokered a complex deal for Unipol to save the
loss-making Fondiaria-SAI via a four-way merger
involving three capital hikes.
The capital hikes were scheduled to be launched in May. The
antitrust probe should be wrapped up in 45 days but the agency
has the option of taking a further 30 days for decisions.
A merger of Unipol and Fondiaria "risks creating or
reinforcing dominant positions in various branches of the
insurance sector," the agency said.
A takeover of Fondiaria by Unipol would create a company
with 32 percent of Italy's non-life insurance sector and around
37 percent of its motor insurance business, able to compete with
The agency said it would also be looking at the relationship
that would be created between the new merged entity and
Mediobanca, as well as examining the ties between Mediobanca and
Italy's biggest insurer Assicurazioni Generali.
Mediobanca, which has a debt exposure to Fondiaria-SAI of
over 1 billion euros, controls Fondiaria's bigger rival
Unipol and Fondiaria could not be reached for a comment.
Fondiaria is at the centre of a widening judicial
investigation involving Salvatore Ligresti, the head of the
family that controls Fondiaria parent Premafin.
As part of that probe, Italy's tax police seized a 20
percent stake in Premafin last week.
Italian private equity funds Palladio Finanziaria and Sator
have launched a rival bid for the Fondiaria-SAI group which is
opposed by the insurer's creditor banks Mediobanca and UniCredit
(Reporting by Alberto Sisto, Gianluca Semeraro and Stephen
Jewkes; Editing by Mark Potter)