Atlantia investor TCI accuses Italy of 'expropriation' in Autostrade deal

MILAN (Reuters) - TCI Fund Management, an investor in Italian infrastructure group Atlantia ATL.MI, accused Rome of an "illegitimate expropriation" of Atlantia's motorways unit Autostrade per l'Italia.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of the Atlantia Group is seen outside their headquarters in Rome, Italy August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

In a letter sent to Italy’s Treasury on July 20 and seen by Reuters, the activist investor said the government had violated the principles of legal certainty and proportionality in its handling of the case.

The letter came after the government ordered Atlantia to sell down its stake in Autostrade, giving up control to state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and allied investors following the 2018 collapse of a motorway bridge it operated in the northern city of Genoa.

After the bridge disaster, which claimed 43 lives, the government repeatedly threatened Atlantia that it would revoke Autostrade’s lucrative motorway concession ahead of its 2038 expiry.

“Atlantia was forced to choose between the sale of Autostrade’s stake to Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) and other investors or the unlawful withdrawal of the concession, which would have resulted in the need for long and uncertain litigation to challenge this measure,” TCI head Christopher Hohn said in the letter.

It demands that the sale of the unit should be carried out “transparently, in accordance with market standards” and calls for market-oriented corporate governance in Autostrade that ensures an efficient oversight on the management of the company.

Hohn also said the government should act quickly to restore market confidence in the country’s legal system.

“Any action resulting in an illegitimate de facto expropriation or... violation of the EU principles, will in any case be challenged before governmental and judicial bodies, including the European Commission and the European Court of Justice,” he said.

According to a report published earlier on Thursday in Italian daily La Repubblica, TCI asked the government to launch a competitive auction to sell Autostrade or, alternatively, to demerge it and list it to create the conditions for Atlantia to sell its controlling stake in the motorway unit to CDP at a “fair” price.

The preliminary deal reached last week between Atlantia and the government was due to be ratified by end-July, sources told Reuters.

Reporting by Francesca Landini; editing by James Mackenzie and Philippa Fletcher