Report: Telecom Italia CEO backs Brazil; denies being asked to sell unit

Telecom Italia CEO Marco Patuano said that he had never been asked to sell TIM Participacoes and that he continued to believe in Brazil as a strategic market for the Italian operator, following reports that investor Vivendi had been pushing for a sale of the company's  Brazilian unit.

According to Reuters, which cited an interview with Patuano by Il Sole 24 Ore, the CEO said the strategy was to invest in infrastructure "as part of a broadly organic growth path." He noted that potential tie-ups should be assessed but "did not offer obvious solutions."

The comments by Patuano came after a fraught week for the CEO when his future as head of the Italian operator appeared to be in doubt.

On Friday, Bloomberg reported that Vivendi was considering kicking out Patuano and had already met with potential replacements, just days after the French media group increased its stake in the Italian operator to 23.8 per cent. Reuters said Vivendi declined to comment on Patuano's position.

The Brazilian business appears to be one of the main bones of contention between Vivendi and Patuano. Bloomberg reported that Vivendi is trying to offload TIM Participacoes and turn the Italian operator into a southern Europe-focused media group. Vivendi chairman Vincent Bollore is losing patience with Patuano's failure to take the operator in that direction, the news agency added.

Telecom Italia was also forced to deny reports on the Dagospia web site that its CEO was leaving to join South Africa-based MTN and would be replaced by former head of Italian state TV Luigi Gubitosi.

"Telecom Italia categorically denies the report, it is groundless," a spokeswoman told Reuters.

In February, Telecom Italia announced a strategic plan for the next two years that involves €12 billion ($13 billion) worth of Italian investments. The bulk of that money will go towards fibre broadband and LTE mobile broadband. Reuters noted that Patuano told Il Sole 24 Ore Vivendi had approved the plan "with conviction".

Vivendi became Telecom Italia's largest shareholder last June, and since then it has been gradually increasing its stake and fighting for more influence in the company. It won a battle against minority investors in December, taking seats that gave it control over around a quarter of the board.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this separate Reuters article

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