TRANI, Italy (Reuters) - Standard & Poor’s analysts in Italy felt the agency lacked enough senior staff to handle the country’s sovereign rating downgrade as the euro zone debt crisis deepened, according a transcript of a phone conversation wiretapped by magistrates and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.
Prosecutors in southern Italy are investigating S&P’s over its credit downgrades of Italy for alleged market manipulation and abuse of privileged information.
The probe is part of a larger investigation, also involving fellow rating agencies Fitch and Moody’s, into a raft of ratings cut that have hit debt-laden Italy since the spring of 2011.
According to a transcript of an August 3, 2011 phone conversation, the head of agency’s Italian unit, Maria Pierdicchi, had received complaints by S&P analysts over the lack of senior staff in Italy.
The conversation took place after Italian police seized documents at the Milan offices of S&P and Moody’s on August 3.
“Honestly, Deven, some analysts think that we don’t have the ability to sustain these kind of rating actions in Italy at the moment, they think that more senior staff is needed to deal with Italy now,” Pierdicchi is quoted as telling former S&P President Deven Sharma, according to the Italian translation of the conversation.
“I have come to know this from senior people, given the very delicate situation. And honestly, it’s the second country, actually the third after the United States and Japan, for the (public debt) size and everything, so I don’t really like these comments from the analysts...”
Pierdicchi also said S&P needed to make sure it had “the right people in the right place.”
“You know, they could be called by prosecutors, they could find themselves in front of an aggression and they need to be able to stick to their decision, right?” Pierdicchi said.
“We need to be extremely aware of the consequences of any action we take, in terms of reactions, media, politicians,” she said.
The agency cut Italy’s sovereign rating on September 20, and again on January 13 this year.
No one from S&P in Italy was immediately available for comment on Tuesday. The agency has said the prosecutors’ allegations are groundless and unsupported by any evidence.
Reporting By Vincenzo Damiani