MILAN The chairman of Intesa Sanpaolo's (ISP.MI) supervisory board on Tuesday denied ever discussing any plans for a merger with Unicredit (CRDI.MI), following media talks over a potential defensive tie-up with Italy's biggest bank by assets.
"Following further media speculation over hypothetical plans of a merger between Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit, I see myself forced to underline that I did not have any role in the elaboration of these projects, even supposing that they exist," Giovanni Bazoli said in a statement.
Last week, a report in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera spurred a media frenzy over the issue and a series of denials by officials from both banks.
A source close to a UniCredit shareholder told Reuters on Monday that Bazoli sent a banker to discuss a tie-up with UniCredit's Chief Executive Ghizzoni but that he had rejected the idea.
A second source said a project for a possible merger between Italy's two biggest banks "exists" but that there was no guarantee it would materialize.
"I have never discussed such arguments, neither with the chairmen of the banking foundations or with representatives of other important shareholders at Intesa Sanpaolo or UniCredit," Bazoli said.
He added he had not asked anybody to propose similar ideas and he did not talk about this issue with media.
UniCredit's Chief Executive Federico Ghizzoni denied on Monday there were any plans for a tie-up with Intesa.
The Italian banking sector has been hit by a debt crisis that has slashed the value of the swathes of Italian and other euro zone government bonds they hold.
Both Intesa and Unicredit have unveiled sweeping job cuts and seen their combined market value dive to just over 40 billion euros.
Bazoli said Italy's leading banks are solid, well capitalized and capable of facing the challenges of the credit market in Italy and abroad.
(Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro; editing by Andrew Hay)