LONDON / ROME (Reuters) – Activist hedge fund TCI Fund Management has said it has filed a complaint with the European Commission for “illegitimate expropriation” by the Italian government of Atlantia’s motorway unit, Autostrade per l’Italia.
TCI, an investor in Atlantia, said in its letter of complaint that the Italian order by Atlantia to sell its stake in Autostrade “seriously threatened the fundamental principles of the European Capital Markets Union”.
The move adds a new dimension to the battle for Autostrade, whose future has been in question since a motorway bridge it operated in the northern city of Genoa collapsed in mid-2018, killing 43 people.
The disaster exposed a record of management failure and fueled strong political pressure to withdraw the highway concession from the powerful Benetton family who control Atlantia through their 30% stake.
After months of dispute, the government reached a preliminary compromise that left Autostrade with the concession, but forced Atlantia to cede control to the state lender CDP and allied investors.
However, TCI said the deal violated the rights of Atlantia’s other investors.
“The Italian government has repeatedly violated the principles of legal certainty, legitimate expectations and proportionality, which are all key pillars of the Italian Constitution and of the European Union,” said the letter seen by Reuters.
“If the government wants to punish the Benetton family with a low price, it punishes international investors, and that’s illegal,” Jonathan Amouyal, an associate at TCI Advisory Services, told Reuters.
“What we want is a fair process and a fair price,” he said, adding that he believed Autostrade’s valuation was between 11 and 12 billion euros to the value of equity before financing.
TCI has asked Rome to set up a competitive auction for the sale of Atlantia’s majority stake in Autostrade or, failing that, to allow the unit to be split and a subsequent sale, Amouyal said.
Atlantia and the government will need time to discuss the process of selling and valuing Autostrade, two sources familiar with the matter said, adding that a final deal will not be ready for July 27, as said. several newspapers.
Autostrade presented a new economic and financial plan for its motorway network Thursday evening, the Ministry of Transport said in a statement.
Autostrade and Transport Ministry officials will discuss details of the plan – which includes more than € 13 billion in investment and a cap of 1.75% annual increase in road tolls – next week, said the Ministry. The plan is one of the pillars for calculating the value of the business.
Atlantia owns 88% of Autostrade, the German Allianz, the Chinese Silk Road and French EDF holding the remainder.
Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Milan and Giuseppe Fonte in Rome; Edited by Rachel Armstrong, Hugh Lawson and Grant McCool