Italy says Sawiris welcome to invest in Telecom Italia

Italy says Sawiris welcome to invest in Telecom Italia

Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris  (AFP Photo)

Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris
(AFP Photo)

Reuters – Italy would have no objections to an investment in Telecom Italia by Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris if he were prepared to put cash into the business, a government official said on Wednesday.

“Investors who bring money are welcome,” Deputy Industry Minister Antonio Catricala told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Rome, in response to recent comments by Sawiris who said he was interested in the former state phone monopoly.

Telecom Italia, controlled by Spain’s Telefonica together with three Italian financial companies, is carrying out a 4-billion-euro ($5.5 billion) plan to cut debt and fund investments as it seeks to reverse years of sluggish growth.

In the last few days, the Egyptian billionaire has told the media he would be prepared to invest in the Italian company on condition Telefonica withdrew from it. Sawiris also said he would be interested in bidding for Telecom Italia’s prized Brazilian unit, TIM Brazil.

He said no talks were underway.

In comments emailed to Reuters on Wednesday, Sawiris said instead of selling assets, Telecom Italia should cut debt through a capital increase which he would be prepared to subscribe to if Telefonica exited.

“(Telecom Italia) needs around 3-4bn euros, which it can raise through a rights issue,” Sawiris, who unsuccessfully attempted to buy a stake in Telecom Italia in 2012, said.

Italian politicians are keen to see more investments in Telecom Italia’s fixed-line network, Italy’s largest telecoms infrastructure, and safeguard jobs at one of the country’s top employers.

On Tuesday, Telecom Italia’s chief executive, Marco Patuano, rejected rumours the company could consider a rights issue to cut its nearly 28bn euros of net debt.

In the email, Sawiris said the Italian company should keep TIM Brasil, its main source of growth, but should the company decide to sell it he would be interested in making an offer.

Patuano, who took the helm at Telecom Italia in October after Telefonica agreed to a gradual takeover of its Italian rival, has said TIM Brasil is a strategic asset which could be sold only at a convincing price.

The possibility of a sale of TIM Brasil was triggered by antitrust issues after Telefonica raised its indirect stake in Telecom Italia to 15%.

Both operators own competing mobile networks in Brazil and the South American country’s competition watchdog has ordered the Spanish telecom giant to downsize its presence there.

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