Libya cbank moves to defuse UniCredit row
Milan, September 20, 2010
Libya's central bank on Monday sought to deflect criticism from Italian politicians and a top shareholder about its stake-building in UniCredit SpA.
The accumulation by the central bank of a 4.988 percent stake - the third biggest in UniCredit - has drawn fire from other shareholders worried about a reduction in their influence.
A financial source said on Friday the Libyan Investment Authority, Tripoli's sovereign wealth fund, had raised its holding to 2.59 percent.
Italian market regulator Consob and the Bank of Italy have requested clarification on the stakes and whether the two investors are independent of each other. Bank rules bar a shareholder from having a voting stake of more than 5 percent.
UniCredit chief executive Alessandro Profumo has been criticised for not informing top managers about the Libyan stake-building.
"The Central Bank of Libya (CBL) is an independent institution," it said in an e-mailed statement. "All rules and regulations related to the CBL operations, financial and administrative matters are decided by its board.
The majority of the CBL board members are independent and are not from the public sector."
The central bank added it was "extremely satisfied" with its relationship with Italian regulators and with its UniCredit holding, which met its criteria for long-term investments.
Libya's holdings are expected to be discussed at a meeting of UniCredit's strategic committee on Thursday, a source close to the issue told Reuters.
"There is definitely a demand for clarification. The shareholders are disgruntled, that's for sure," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
UniCredit's top shareholder foundations, which have political ties to Italian regions, hold about 11 percent. They were hit by two capital increases during the financial crisis as Profumo sought to bolster capital and analysts say the Libyan stake-holding could reduce their influence.
In an unusual display of concern, Andrea Comba, the chairman of the Cassa di Risparmio di Torino (CRT) Foundation, said it would be necessary to ascertain whether Profumo was acting in shareholders' interests. CRT has 3.32 percent of UniCredit.