By Emilio Parodi
MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian court in Genoa found that motorway unit Autostrade per l'Italia applied pressure on officials at a sister maintenance firm to falsify safety reports for several bridges to save money for parent company Atlantia <ATL.MI>.
In a court document seen by Reuters, three judges said for the first time that the pressure to cut costs had guided the thinking of several employees of both Autostrade and maintenance company SPEA when producing the reports.
They did not find any evidence of wrongdoing by executives at Atlantia, the group which controls both Autostrade and SPEA.
A spokesman for Atlantia and Autostrade declined to comment on the issue. Atlantia in the past has referred to previous statements issued by Autostrade saying there were no safety problems at its viaducts, which had also been inspected by an external maintenance company.
A spokeswoman for SPEA also declined to comment.
Autostrade says on its website that it spent 5.43 billion euros on maintenance in the 2000-2018 period, approximately 196 million euros more than it had promised to spend in its concession agreement with Italy's transport ministry.
The court finding could give more ammunition to Italy's ruling coalition party 5-Star Movement, which has been demanding that Atlantia be stripped of its lucrative motorway concessions after 43 people were killed in the collapse of a Genoa motorway bridge operated by Autostrade last year.
5-Star has long accused Atlantia, which is controlled by the Benetton family, and its two subsidiaries of neglecting to maintain the motorway network they manage.
Prosecutors are investigating the reasons behind the bridge collapse and have also opened a second inquiry into safety reports for other bridges operated by the group.
"Aspi and SPEA -- linked to the Atlantia group and therefore sharing the interests of the parent company -- appear to be focused on a logic of saving on maintenance costs to convey the impression of an efficient network," the court said in the document, citing police wiretaps of people under investigation.
This allowed the two companies to avoid significant maintenance investments and the risk that government agencies supervising the motorway network could close down roads out of fear the infrastructure was not safe, it said.
(Writing by Francesca Landini; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)