Exclusive: Egyptian investor seeks to put stamp on Telecom Italia

Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:05am EST
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By Mirna Sleiman

DUBAI (Reuters) - Egyptian entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris aims to shake up debt-laden Telecom Italia and steer it towards expansion in Brazil if shareholders warm up to his proposal for a 3 billion euro ($3.9 billion) cash infusion.

The billionaire tycoon, who got to know Italy well when he owned the third-biggest mobile operator Wind, has put on the table a capital increase that could make him one of the biggest shareholders in Telecom Italia.

Details on the structure of the proposed transaction are scarce, but Sawiris told Reuters that he proposed that the capital increase be open to all shareholders, not just himself, and that it should be conducted around the current market price of 0.70 euros per share.

That is likely to draw the ire of other Telecom Italia shareholders, including Spain's Telefonica and the three Italian financial institutions who together own 22.4 percent via an unlisted holding company called Telco.

They value Telecom Italia at 1.50 euros per share in their accounts, and Marco Fossati, whose family's Findim Group SA owns 5 percent of the Italian operator, on Monday said 1.50 was the "correct price" for any capital increase.

Sawiris, going against a trend of retreating investment in crisis-hit southern Europe, said he might also bring in some of his old Wind associates to put Telecom Italia back on the path to growth.

"This proposal will provide a more stable financial structure for Telecom Italia going forward, more growth in Latin America and Brazil, and improved management through the infusion of people who have an excellent knowledge of the Italian market," Sawiris told Reuters.

Sawiris initially approached Telefonica and the other shareholders in Telco about the possibility of carrying out a capital increase at the holding company level. He was rebuffed, so decided to approach the Italian group directly.   Continued...

A Telecom Italia antenna booster is seen in northern Rome November 12, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi