By Paola Arosio
MILAN, Sept 7 Egyptian telecoms tycoon Naguib
Sawiris said on Saturday he was still interested in taking a
stake in Telecom Italia but might be discouraged if
the Italian government was opposed.
In an emailed statement to Reuters, Sawiris said he was
considering a "potential investment in Telecom Italia" but might
not submit a proposal "in view of (Italy's)... alleged
preference for Telefonica reported in the Italian press."
Telecom Italia is seen as an early takeover target in a
shake-up of the sector expected to be triggered by Verizon
Communications' $130 billion buyout of British operator
Vodafone from their U.S. wireless business.
The struggling Italian firm's board meets on Sept. 19 to
discuss how to push the company forward, including a possible
change of the shareholder structure.
Italy's largest fixed-line operator telecoms firm by clients
is controlled by a group of investors that own 22.4 percent
through corporate holding Telco, with Spanish peer Telefonica
the biggest shareholder.
In an unsourced report, an Italian newspaper said on Friday
that Rome would prefer a merger between Telecom Italia and
Telefonica rather than a buy-in by Sawiris.
However in an interview with Reuters, Italy Economy Minister
Fabrizio Saccomanni said Rome welcomed foreign investments and
companies should be left to decide on their future strategy.
"We don't have any strategy to prevent such investments,"
the minister said on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti forum in
Cernobbio. "We don't necessarily have a role to play in single
negotiations and I think it should be up to the companies
involved to decide on the terms and conditions for foreign
Telecom Italia declined to comment on Sawiris' statement.
The Egyptian said last year he was ready to inject 3 billion
euros into Telecom Italia, a proposal that was rejected by the
He said on Saturday he had not submitted a new offer.
Telecom Italia shareholders have also rejected this year a
merger offer from Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa,
mainly due to differences over valuation.
The company is struggling under a 29 billion euro debt and
shrinking margins in its core market Italy but owns valuable
assets in Brazil and Argentina.
OPEN TO OPTIONS
"There is a commitment by the (Telecom Italia) chairman
(Franco Bernabe) to present a plan and options by Sept. 19,"
Enrico Cucchiani, CEO of Telecom Italia investor IntesaSanpaolo
told Reuters in a TV interview.
"We are open to all options that make strategic sense for
the company" Regarding Intesa's Telecom Italia, stake, he added.
Italian insurer Generali, another core investor in
Telecom Italia, said it was willing to sell its stake to focus
on the insurance business but would decide on the timing on any
potential sale after the board meeting.
"When we move out will depend very much on what we hear from
the board on Sept. 19 in terms of strategy" and ways to improve
valuation, Generali Chairman Gabriele Galateri told Reuters.
Telco shareholders have up until Sept. 28 to decide whether
they want to exit a shareholder pact. Investment bank Mediobanca
has said it is prepared to sell after writing down its
stake to around current market value.
Telefonica, Generali and IntesaSanpaolo risk a negative
impact if they sell their stakes at market price as they have
booked the investment at twice the current share value.