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Italy's Meloni vetoes Russian-linked takeover of tech company

FILE PHOTO: EU leaders attend a summit in Brussels

By Giuseppe Fonte and Alexander Marrow

ROME/MOSCOW (Reuters) -Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni vetoed a takeover deal by a cloud services provider due to links with Russian internet giant Yandex, according to a government document and three people familiar with the matter.

The decision marks the first time that Meloni's administration has used its so-called "golden powers" regulation to block undesired bids in industries deemed of strategic importance such as banking, energy, telecommunications and health.

Meloni swept to power last October shortly after a resounding election victory.

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The veto was decided on at a March 16 cabinet meeting, a document sent to parliament and published on the Italian Senate's website showed.

Under the rebuffed deal, Dutch-based company Nebius would have acquired Tecnologia Intelligente (TI), a small company set up by Marco Carrai, an Italian businessman close to former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Two government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the government was concerned about the deal because Nebius's activities were funded by Yandex.

The Russian firm's Dutch-registered holding company is planning to divest ownership and control of most of Yandex Group, including its main revenue-generating businesses, with the international divisions of some services, comprising cloud, to be developed outside Russia.

A third source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Nebius would be part of the new international company after the restructuring.

Calls and text messages to Carrai went unanswered. Yandex said Nebius was part of its Dutch holding company, but declined to comment further.

GOLDEN POWERS

Often referred to as "Russia's Google," Yandex was founded in the early 1990s by Arkady Volozh, who last year stepped down as CEO and left the board of directors after the European Union included him on its list of sanctions against Russian entities and individuals. Yandex itself is not under Western sanctions.

Nebius had planned to build a research and development hub in Italy to attract top tech talent from Russia and elsewhere, said Danila Shtan, one of the key developers at Nebius.

"Our Dutch holding company is in the process of divesting its Russian business - unfortunately, this isn't a fast process," Shtan said. "But hopefully when it completes, we can get back to focusing on tech instead of visas."

Italy's use of its golden powers usually results in deals being approved with recommendations intended to preserve the national interest.

Since these powers were introduced in 2012, government authorities have blocked foreign forays into Italy nine times.

In six of those cases, the vetoes stopped Chinese bids, while Meloni's predecessor Mario Draghi last year rejected an attempt by Russia's state-owned atomic company Rosatom to acquire Faber Industrie, a hydrogen company.

The next key decision that Meloni's government needs to make concerns the planned sale of a Lukoil-owned refinery in Sicily to Cypriot private equity firm G.O.I. Energy.

Some media outlets have speculated that the United States is concerned over the sale of the Priolo refinery, which is only about 50 km (30 miles) away from a NATO base in Sigonella.

In response, G.O.I. Energy issued a statement last month saying neither the company nor its CEO, Michael Bobrov, has any connection with Russia.

(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte in Rome and Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Editing by Paul Simao)