June 25, 2019 / 6:45 PM / 4 months ago

Italy's PM meets party leaders on Atlantia concession - sources

ROME (Reuters) - Top Italian ministers will meet late on Tuesday to discuss how to deal with motorway operator Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI) and its concession, three people familiar with the matter said.

Toll-road operator Autostrade per l'Italia's headquarters is seen in Rome, Italy August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will hold a meeting with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Industry Minister Luigi Di Maio and Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli, the sources said.

ASPI, part of infrastructure group Atlantia, has been under intense criticism from the government since last August, when a motorway bridge it operated collapsed, killing 43 people.

After the disaster the government set in motion a complex procedure to revoke ASPI’s motorway concession, which accounts for around one third of Atlantia’s core profits.

The 5-Star Movement, which is part of the ruling coalition, has been particularly vocal against Atlantia and the Benetton family, its controlling shareholder.

The ministers will discuss the procedure to revoke the concession, sources said, amid speculation that the government could soften its stance on Atlantia to persuade the group to take part in the rescue of flagship carrier Alitalia.

It is not clear, however, if they will also discuss attempts to find private investors to take over Alitalia.

The Prime Minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Di Maio, who leads 5-Star, has strongly criticised Atlantia for not adequately maintaining the ageing bridge. His party colleague Toninelli has repeatedly said that he is committed to scrapping ASPI’s concessions.

The company has always denied any wrongdoing.

“Whoever has made a mistake has to pay for it, and I can assure you he will pay,” said Di Maio in a post about the bridge disaster published on his Facebook account ahead of the meeting.

The League’s leader Salvini has signalled he is more open to talking with Atlantia, which he has described as his preferred partner for Alitalia.

Atlantia’s involvement could be a turning point in the efforts to save Alitalia, but several sources said earlier this month the plan still lacked a political green light.

Italy’s state-owned railway group Ferrovie dello Stato is spearheading attempts to set up a consortium of investors to buy the Italian carrier, which is managed by administrators.

So far Ferrovie has secured the commitment of Delta Air Lines, but it is struggling to find another partner who is willing to invest around 300 million euros ($336 million) in Alitalia, which has a long history of financial woe.

On June 15 the Industry ministry postponed for the fourth time a deadline for Ferrovie to present a binding rescue bid for Alitalia, extending it to July 15.

Writing by Stephen Jewkes and Giuseppe Fonte, editing by Francesca Landini; Editing by Jan Harvey

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