One of Italy’s richest families will allow its toll road business to be part-nationalised following the fatal Genoa bridge collapse in 2018.
The billionaire Benetton family will hand over a 51pc stake in the roads arm of Atlantia, the infrastructure group that is also Eurotunnel’s biggest shareholder. Atlantia shares surged 24pc in Milan on news of the deal, although terms have yet to be confirmed.
Italy’s ruling Five Star Movement had pledged to strip Atlantia of its toll road concessions to punish it over the bridge catastrophe that killed 43 people in August 2018.
Autostrade per l’Italia, 88pc owned by Atlantia, operates more than 3,000km of highways and was originally created during Italy’s post-war reconstruction.
The Genoa bridge collapse led to a national mourning after cars and lorries plunged onto rail tracks below.
Whilst a ministerial commission concluded that Autostrade had underestimated the integrity of the bridge, the company rejected the claims, leaving both sides at loggerheads over remedies.
Fears were raised of a multibillion-euro lawsuit if the Italian government followed through with its threat to strip Autostrade of its toll road concessions. The loss of the contracts could have had more existential consequences for Atlantia, which warned it could default on debts taken on to acquire Spain’s Abertis for €16.5bn in 2018.
However, failure to punish the company risked damaging public support for the Five Star Movement, the lead party in Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's coalition government.
Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli told Italian news agency ANSA that control of Autostrade would be handed over to the state by the end of September.
The Italian cabinet said that if a deal was not finalised, it would follow through with its threat to strip Autostrade of its toll road concessions.
Mr Conte said in a post on Facebook after all-night talks to settle the matter: "We need a clear and transparent agreement with Atlantia to avoid the revocation [of its motorway licence]."
"Public interest has prevailed over a well-established private interest," he added.
The Benetton family owns 30pc of Atlantia.