January 25, 2018 / 5:11 PM / a year ago

Exclusive: Telecom Italia deputy chairman gives up operational powers - sources

MILAN (Reuters) - The deputy chairman of Telecom Italia (TIM) (TLIT.MI), Giuseppe Recchi, has given up operational powers, two sources with knowledge of the matter said, the latest sign of turmoil at the group that has changed CEOs twice in the past two years.

FILE PHOTO: Telecom Italia chairman Giuseppe Recchi gestures during the launch of the new logo of its TIM brand in Rome, Italy, January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

The two sources said Recchi, whose powers include oversight of TIM’s affairs related to national security and defense, would stay on the board. But a third source said this was “subject to a discussion with the executive chairman and the board”.

TIM has faced several management changes since French media group Vivendi (VIV.PA) became its top investor with a 24 percent stake. The French firm has increasingly tightened its grip on the former state phone monopoly, leading to tension with Rome.

Italy said last year it wanted a say in TIM’s strategic decisions, under a so-called “golden power” decree, which analysts said showed Rome’s bid to rein in Vivendi’s influence.

Chief Executive Amos Genish, a favorite of Vivendi Chairman Vincent Bollore, was appointed in September, TIM’s third CEO in less than two years. His two predecessors had left following disagreements with Vivendi.

One person said Recchi’s relationship with Vivendi had also soured. But three sources said he was leaving to pursue a new job opportunity and his decision had nothing to do with Vivendi.

Recchi was TIM’s chairman from 2014 until mid 2017, when he was replaced by Arnaud de Puyfontaine, who is also Vivendi’s chief executive.

As deputy chairman, Recchi retained responsibility for international wholesale unit Sparkle. Rome wanted Sparkle to stay in the hands of an Italian because the unit’s submarine network transmits sensitive information between countries in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Americas.

The mandates given up by Recchi would be assigned as part of a new governance set-up TIM was discussing with the state in the context of the “golden power” decree, another source said.

Telecom Italia had no immediate comment. Vivendi declined to comment.

The sources said TIM would file an appeal to Italy’s head of state against the “golden power” decree, which could give the government a veto over actions such as mergers or selling assets deemed to be of strategic national importance.

A source close to the company said the appeal, which must be filed by a deadline on Friday, was a “technical move” to keep options open for the firm once the government responds to TIM’s proposals on how the decree could be implemented.

The source said TIM was still awaiting an answer from Rome on its proposals.

Several sources had said this week there were tensions between Vivendi and TIM’s latest CEO Genish. But de Puyfontaine sought to quash talk the CEO might be on his way out, saying TIM’s board had full trust in the former Israeli army captain.

Genish said he was committed to the job and would present a new business plan in coming months.

Since taking the post, Genish has sought to patch up ties with Rome. Several Italian government officials said a new and more constructive phase of relations had started after meeting Genish.

Additional reporting by Agnieszka Flak in Milan, Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris and Alberto Sisto in Rome; writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Edmund Blair

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