Olivetti clinches victory in pounds 40bn Telecom Italia battle

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The Independent Online
OLIVETTI LAST night clinched victory in the pounds 40bn takeover battle for control of Telecom Italia.

After the most spectacular corporate bid battle in Italy, Olivetti secured acceptances from more than 50 per cent of Telecom Italia's shareholders for its 11.5 euro a share offer.

Olivetti's 51.02 per cent victory came after a flood of defections by Telecom Italia supporters, including San Paolo-IMI, one of its own investment bank advisers.

The three-month takeover struggle gives Olivetti control of Europe's fourth-biggest telecoms operator and marks the end of the biggest hostile bid battle ever witnessed on the Continent.

As Telecom Italia backers switched sides, one Olivetti adviser said: "It's a bit like the last helicopters leaving Saigon." Celebrations began as the result of the voting became clear.

In a desperate bid to escape the clutches of Olivetti, Franco Bernabe, Telecom Italia's chief executive, agreed a $170bn merger with Deutsche Telekom. But the deal faced political opposition in Italy almost from the day it was announced.

The Italian government, which holds a golden share in Telecom Italia, was opposed to the Deutsche Telekom deal as it would have left the German government with a 40 per cent stake in the combined group.

The Olivetti board will meet this morning to formalise the takeover of Telecom Italia and accept the resignation of Mr Bernabe. Telecom Italia has denied reports that he is in line for an pounds 8m pay-off although sources insist that Mr Bernabe is on a three-year rolling contract which entitles him to pounds 2.6m a year.

In order for the takeover to be completed, the Italian government will have to waive its golden share, which entitles it to block any bidder it regards as unacceptable. The government also has a 3.4 per cent stake in Telecom Italia. The takeover is one of the first contested bid battles fought in Italy and has been punctuated by claims and counter claims of illegal behaviour and rigging the market.

On Thursday night Telecom Italia failed in a last-ditch attempt to stop the offer proceeding after the Milan stock exchange authority, the Consob, rejected its complaint that the Olivetti camp had been leaking claims about the level of acceptances in order to persuade shareholders to accept the offer. Mr Bernabe claimed that Telecom Italia had been "ambushed" by people with no respect for the law.

France Telecom is threatening to sue Deutsche Telekom for "several billion euros" claiming the merger agreement it signed with Telecom Italia breached an alliance in existence between France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom. However, Mr Sommer again insisted yesterday that it had broken no contract and said there was no reason to call into question the alliance with the French. "Michel Bon [the chairman of France Telecom] has reacted in an extremely emotional way and I deeply regret it," he said in an interview with the French business newspaper, La Tribune.

"Two partners who have worked together for 10 years should not smash so much crockery without thinking of the consequences for shareholders, the companies and employees."