Italian regulator wants to handle Hutchison, Vimpelcom deal

A car drives past the logo of Beeline, the brand owned by mobile phone operator Vimpelcom, at its office in Moscow, November 12, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Italy's antitrust authority wants to decide the fate of telecoms firm Hutchison's plan to merge its Italian subsidiary with a unit of Vimpelcom VIP.O, pitting it against the EU competition authority which is currently reviewing the case.

The Italian watchdog has asked the European Commission, which has been scrutinizing Hutchison’s proposal to create a stronger player in Italy since Feb. 5, to hand over the case.

“The European Commission has received a referral request from the Italian authorities and we are assessing it,” Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said in an email.

The Italian bid is reminiscent of a similar move by the German competition authority which wanted to examine Telefonica's TEF.MC plan to consolidate the German mobile market by acquiring KPN's KPN.AS German subsidiary E-Plus in 2013.

The Commission rebuffed that request, saying it was better placed to examine the case because of its extensive experience and need for a consistent policy toward mergers in the telecoms industry.

It may also therefore want to keep the case involving Hutchison, which is part of CK Holdings 0001.HK, because it would reduce the number of mobile network operators in Italy from four to three, raising the possibility of price hikes after the deal is completed.

The Commission extended its preliminary investigation into the Hutchison/Vimpelcom deal to March 30 from March 11 following the Italian move.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Potter