Italy nationalizes highways controlled by the Benetton family

The compromise took a long time to emerge, but the deal is now done. Monday, May 31, nearly three years after the collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, which left 43 dead and traumatized the whole of Italy, the shareholders’ meeting of the Atlantia holding, controlled by the Benetton family and whose management seems to be at the origin of the tragedy, voted in favor of the sale of its 88% stake in the motorway concessionaire Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI), for a price of 7.9 billion euros.

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Privatized in 1999, this motorway group managing a total of more than 3,000 kilometers of motorways, from the north to the south of the country, therefore returns to the bosom of the Italian State: the buyer is a consortium made up of the Italian Caisse des Dépôts (for 51%) and two investment funds, BlackRock and Marcquairie (24.5% each).

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The Benetton family therefore loses control of this extremely profitable asset (the year before the Genoa tragedy, ASPI had declared a profit of 968 million euros for around 4 billion euros in turnover). In exchange, she receives a sum of 2.4 billion euros (the Benettons own 30% of the holding company Atlantia). At the same time, it conjures the threat of an outright revocation of its concession, agitated by the Italian government since the day after the tragedy.

Stormy negotiations

The outline of the agreement was defined in July 2020, but negotiations on the valuation of the whole were long and stormy. It is because the debate was at least as much political as financial: how the Italian state could pay money to Atlantia while its faulty management of the handling of the bridge – the group would have skimped on the maintenance in order to improve its margins – seems, according to a body of overwhelming evidence, at the origin of this unprecedented tragedy, which claimed the lives of 43 people?

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The day after the disaster, the 5-Star Movement (anti-system) and several other political leaders had called for an outright revocation of the concession, and made the expropriation of the Benettons a matter of principle. But the procedure, made very difficult by the terms of the concession contract, was likely to give rise to a series of actions from minority shareholders, all for a very uncertain result.

“We are very bitter” Egle Possetti, spokesperson for the association of victims of August 14, 2018

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