Italy wants privatisation deal for ITA Airways by mid-June, sources say

By Giuseppe Fonte and Francesca Landini

ROME, March 30 (Reuters) - The Italian government wants to clinch a deal on the sale of state-owned carrier ITA Airways by mid-June, two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

ITA took over from Alitalia in October, permanently grounding the 75-year-old, one-time symbol of Italian style and glamour after years of financial losses and failed rescue attempts.

Shipping group MSC and Germany's Lufthansa LHAG.DE have expressed interest in buying a majority stake in ITA and requested an exclusivity period of 90 days to iron out details of an acquisition. But Rome opted for a market-based procedure aimed at keeping the door open to other potential suitors.

The government headed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi wants a privatisation deal in place before the start of summer, one of the sources said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter. Draghi's office declined to comment.

Under a government decree entered into force early this month, Rome plans to privatise ITA through a direct sale or a public offer while retaining a minority, non-controlling stake in a first stage.

Last week the Treasury picked Equita and Gianni & Origoni as financial and legal advisers, intensifying efforts to find strategic partners.

The ministry has mandated the advisers to review the expressions of interest for the carrier and short list suitors who will be admitted to the data room, a third source said.

Under an agreement with the European Union, Rome can inject up to 1.35 billion euros ($1.51 billion) into the carrier by 2023. A privatisation deal would reduce the financial support granted by the state, limiting the costs for Italian taxpayers.

Last year the treasury paid a first tranche of 700 million euros. It is expected to inject an additional 400 million euros in April, with another 250 million euros scheduled for next year.

In past decades, Alitalia tried and failed to clinch alliances with Air France AIRF.PA and, more recently, Gulf airline Etihad.

Delta Air Lines Inc DAL.N last week said it wanted to deepen its commercial ties with ITA Airways but was not interested in taking an equity stake in the carrier.

($1 = 0.8967 euros)
Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte in Rome and Francesca Landini in Milan

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