MILAN (Reuters) - France’s Vivendi does not rule out increasing its stake in Telecom Italia after becoming the group’s largest investor with 14.9 percent, CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Vivendi said on Wednesday it had raised its stake in Telecom Italia to just under 15 percent, replacing Telefonica as the biggest shareholder and gaining a foothold in a country it said had significant growth prospects.
Asked if the company would increase its stake further, De Puyfontaine told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Thursday: “Time will tell, never say never.”
As the biggest shareholder Vivendi could now be influential in whether Telecom Italia decides to sell TIM Participacoes, Brazil’s second-biggest mobile operator, and in how much the Italian group invests in high-speed fiber broadband in Italy where the government wants it to do more to upgrade old infrastructure. Telecom Italia Chairman Giuseppe Recchi said last week his company wanted to stay in Brazil, which accounts for a third of revenue.
Asked whether Vivendi would push for Telecom Italia to exit Brazil, De Puyfontaine said he was “open and very flexible”.
“The important thing is to take a decision that creates value in the long term ... but we have to be pragmatic,” he said.
He noted that his company had decided to exit its own Brazilian assets to invest in Italy.
Vivendi’s investment in Telecom Italia was for the long term, he said. The Italian phone group had “great prospects”, especially given the push to develop ultrafast broadband network - a pet project of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
De Puyfontaine said it was too early to say whether Vivendi would seek to press Telecom Italia to take part in an alliance between Italy’s Metroweb, Vodafone and Vimpelcom’s Italian mobile phone unit Wind to help build the fiber-optic network.
“The statements made by Prime Minister Renzi are very important. I will discuss this theme in Italy with insiders, and I will discuss it in depth with Telecom Italia’s management,” he said.
“But I can say that Italy and Greece are the only European countries without a cable network.”
Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Susan Fenton