Da International Herald Tribune del 27/07/2005
Originale su http://www.iht.com/bin/print_ipub.php?file=/articles/2005/07/26/busine...

Dutch bank's Italian bid may live

di Eric Sylvers

MILAN Italian prosecutors breathed new life into ABN AMRO's seemingly failed bid to buy Banca Antonveneta ahead of the Italian bank's shareholders scheduled meeting on Wednesday to elect a new board.

Prosecutors in Milan on Monday evening took the nearly unprecedented step of seizing the Antonveneta shares held by Banca Popolare Italiana and several high-profile Italian financiers, including Emilio Gnutti, Stefano Ricucci and Danilo Coppola.

The prosecutors allege that Popolare Italiana and the financiers colluded to use their combined stake of more than 40 percent to illegally block ABN AMRO's attempted takeover of Antonveneta.

The move by the prosecutors makes it possible that ABN AMRO, based in the Netherlands, could choose all the new Antonveneta board members and then essentially control the bank while the legal matters are sorted out and until Popolare Italiana's own tender offer for Antonveneta concludes at the end of August.

Though the battle for control of Antonveneta, a midsize bank located in Italy's rich northeast, pits ABN AMRO against Popolare Italiana, the true protagonist has been Antonio Fazio, the governor of Italy's central bank.

Fazio has been accused by critics of using his position as the regulator of Italy's banking sector to encourage and facilitate Popolare Italiana's bid.

Fazio, who has a lifetime appointment, has become the target of criticism from some politicians and many of Italy's business elite. They say he is hurting the country rather than saving the banking sector, as his supporters claim. Though Fazio said in May that he was neutral about foreign banks' owning Italian banks, industry analysts and executives say his actions - sometimes behind the scenes and often made public only through reports in Italian newspapers - show that is not the case.

The Milan-based daily newspaper, Il Giornale, on Tuesday printed parts of intercepted phone conversations prosecutors used in their decision to seize the Antonveneta shares held by Popolare Italiana and the financiers. In one conversation on July 12, according to the newspaper, Fazio called Gianpiero Fiorani, chief executive of Popolare Italiana, at midnight to tell him he had approved the bank's bid to buy Antonveneta.

The conversation as reported by Il Giornale:

Fazio: "Did I wake you?"

Fiorani: "No, no."

Fazio: "O.K. I just signed."

Fiorani: "Tonino, I'm moved. Thank you. Thank you. I have goose bumps. Tonino, I'd like to give you a kiss on the forehead, but I can't do it. I know how much you suffered. I also suffered."

Popolare Italiana's size - the bank is a third the size of its takeover target - and financial situation made many industry analysts suggest at the time that the approval could not be justified.

ABN AMRO owns 25 percent of Antonveneta and is the biggest investor after Popolare Italiana, which owns almost 30 percent. Antonveneta has been without a functioning board since the end of April, when a court in Padua, where the bank is based, blocked the appointment of new directors who had been put in place by Popolare Italiana.

The Antonveneta shares owned by Popolare Italiana and the financiers will be represented at the shareholders' meeting by a court-appointed representative, although that person very likely will not be able to vote on any decisions taken at the meeting, according to the Italian news service Ansa.

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