Libyan Fund Is Said to Boost UniCredit Stake, Claims Acting Independently

Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) --UniCredit SpA investor Libyan Investment Authority boosted its stake in Italy’s biggest bank since July and told the country’s stock market regulator that it’s a separate entity from the Central Bank of Libya, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The Libyan sovereign wealth fund informed Italy’s Consob in a letter that it purchased an additional 0.5 percent stake in the Milan-based lender, raising its holding to 2.6 percent, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the letter is confidential.

The Libyan Investment Authority, responding to requests from Italian regulators to clarify its position, also said it’s acting independently from the Central Bank of Libya, the people said. The central bank owns almost 5 percent of UniCredit, making it one of the top three investors in the bank.

The recent Libyan investments in UniCredit have triggered opposition from some members of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government, and raised legal questions about whether the investors acted independently. UniCredit’s bylaws restrict investor voting rights to 5 percent.

Libyan investors chose “autonomously” to buy the stakes in UniCredit, Chief Executive Officer Alessandro Profumo told reporters in Milan Sept. 6. The bank is strengthening its ties to Libya as Berlusconi fosters trade relations with the country, led by Muammar Qaddafi. The Central Bank of Libya last month assigned a banking license to UniCredit, which became the first foreign bank allowed to operate in the country.

Independent Investors

A UniCredit official declined to comment, while a spokesman for the Libyan Investment Authority in Tripoli wasn’t immediately available for a comment. The 0.5 percent purchase by the Libyan Investment Authority was reported earlier today by financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

Consob and the Bank of Italy asked the two Libyan investors to prove that they are independent entities after the Libyan sovereign wealth fund bought a 2.1 percent stake in UniCredit in July.

A Consob official confirmed today that it received a letter from the Libyan Investment Authority fund concerning its stake in UniCredit, though he declined to disclose the contents.

UniCredit’s board meets Sept. 30 to discuss the matter and send a response to the Italian regulators.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sonia Sirletti in Milan at sirletti@bloomberg.net To contact the reporters on this story:

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