Genoa bridge col­lapse costs Benet­ton stake in toll roads

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Oliver Gill

ONE of Italy’s rich­est fam­i­lies will al­low its toll road busi­ness to be part­na­tion­alised fol­low­ing the fa­tal Genoa bridge col­lapse in 2018.

The bil­lion­aire Benet­ton fam­ily will hand over a 51pc stake in the roads arm of At­lantia, the in­fra­struc­ture group that is also Euro­tun­nel’s big­gest share­holder. At­lantia shares surged by more than a quar­ter in Mi­lan on news of the deal, al­though terms have yet to be con­firmed.

Italy’s rul­ing Five Star Move­ment had pledged to strip At­lantia of its toll road con­ces­sions to pun­ish it over the bridge catas­tro­phe that killed 43 peo­ple in Au­gust 2018.

Au­tostrade per l’Italia, 88pc owned by At­lantia, op­er­ates 1,800 miles of high­ways and was orig­i­nally cre­ated dur­ing Italy’s post-war re­con­struc­tion.

The Genoa bridge col­lapse led to a na­tional mourn­ing af­ter cars and lor­ries plunged on to rail tracks be­low.

While a min­is­te­rial com­mis­sion con­cluded that Au­tostrade had mis­judged the in­tegrity of the bridge, the com­pany re­jected the claims, leav­ing both sides at log­ger­heads over reme­dies.

Fears were raised of a multi­bil­lioneuro law­suit if the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment fol­lowed through with its threat to strip Au­tostrade of its toll road con­ces­sions. The loss of the con­tracts could have had more ex­is­ten­tial con­se­quences for At­lantia, which warned it could de­fault on debts taken on to ac­quire Spain’s Aber­tis for €16.5bn (£15bn) in 2018.

How­ever, fail­ure to pun­ish the com­pany risked dam­ag­ing pub­lic sup­port for the Five Star Move­ment, the lead party in prime min­is­ter Giuseppe Conte’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

Ste­fano Pat­u­anelli, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter, told Ital­ian news agency Ansa that con­trol of Au­tostrade would be handed over to the state by the end of Septem­ber.

The Ital­ian cab­i­net said that if a deal was not fi­nalised, it would fol­low through with its threat to strip Au­tostrade of its toll road con­ces­sions.

Mr Conte said in a post on Face­book af­ter all-night talks to set­tle the mat­ter: “We need a clear and trans­par­ent agree­ment with At­lantia to avoid the re­vo­ca­tion [of its mo­tor­way li­cence].”

“Pub­lic in­ter­est has pre­vailed over a well-es­tab­lished pri­vate in­ter­est,” he added.

The Benet­ton fam­ily, who are best known for their fash­ion chain, own 30pc of At­lantia. The Ger­man in­surer Al­lianz and China’s Silk Road fund bought a 12pc stake in Au­tostrade in 2017.

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